Heineken Cup Meeting Makes Progress, But Future Hinges On TV Deal
An emergency meeting called before the Heineken Cup final in Dublin "produced a breakthrough in the bid to save the tournament," according to Paul Rees of the London GUARDIAN. However, the signing of any accord "still hinges on the destination of the television contract." The meeting "saw agreement in principle" that after next season the Heineken Cup should be reduced from 24 teams to 20, with the spare four taking part in an enhanced Amlin Challenge Cup. There would also be a third tournament "for teams from tier-two nations such as Russia, Romania, Spain and Georgia." The 20 teams in the Heineken Cup would be made up of the top six in that previous season's Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect Pro 12 "with the profits shared equally by the three leagues." The other two places would be decided by a playoff "involving the sides who finished seventh and eighth in their respective divisions." The French Rugby Federation arranged the meeting, "which did not include tournament organizers European Rugby Cup Ltd." An English club official said, "What we are talking about is building a new tournament structured in a different way. We are not going to be forced into anything that the clubs are unhappy with and the French feel the same way. Progress was made at the meeting in Dublin, but it will all come down to the television contract." The official added, "The deal we have with BT Vision will generate so much extra revenue that even though the money would be split equally between the three leagues, the Celtic countries and Italy will receive more than they do now. They may be getting smaller slices but the cake will be far bigger" (GUARDIAN, 5/20).