TV row threat hits Welsh regions
THE Welsh regions face a heightened risk of financial meltdown after European Rugby Cup Ltd and the Aviva Premiership clubs BOTH announced exclusive TV deals for the Heineken Cup.
A day of chaos finished with the prospect of legal action from both camps and a renewed threat to the jewel in European rugby’s crown.
The Heineken Cup’s future was already in doubt amid complaints from the English and French over the qualifying process from the RaboDirect Pro12, with top sides from both countries having served notice to quit Europe and organise a rival competition.
But the ante was upped significantly when Premiership Rugby announced they had negotiated a £152 million deal with BT which includes a provision for live and exclusive coverage of matches played by English clubs in European competitions from 2014-15 for three years.
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The Aviva clubs let the world know of the arrangement via an email they entitled New Deal Strengthens European Rugby.
Evidence that ERC didn’t agree with them came 67 minutes later when they issued a statement outlining their own exclusive tie-up with Sky. There was also a separate ERC bulletin raising questions over the Premiership package.
The shambles will be of desperate concern to the regions, who receive around £1 million each for competing in the Heineken Cup, with the prospect of extra cash if they reach the knockout stages — the Blues reportedly picked up close on £1 million for their quarter-final appearance against Leinster last season.
At a time when they are grappling with major financial challenges, the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons will hope the situation is satisfactorily resolved.
ERC are confident they are in the right, pointing out in their statement that a board meeting on June 6 — at which the Premiership clubs were represented — gave them a mandate to conclude a fresh deal with Sky. They also believe they have sole authority invested in them by the International Rugby Board to negotiate broadcasting arrangements.
“ERC has raised questions over a purported deal by Premiership Rugby to sell the UK broadcast rights to European club rugby tournaments,” ran the ERC statement.
“While awaiting further information regarding Premiership Rugby’s proposed agreement with BT, the ERC Board, which met in Dublin today, believes that any such agreement would be in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC board itself.
“European club rugby’s six participant unions have granted the authority to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to ERC.”
The new ERC-Sky pact for the UK and Ireland gives the satellite firm exclusive live broadcast rights to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup until 2018.
Premiership Rugby disputes the main points of ERC’s statement.