heineken cup moves closer to extinction

Des Berry

The Heineken Cup continues to come under serious threat of extinction at the end of the season 2013/2014.

Premiership Rugby has countered the announcement by the European Rugby Cup of a four-year broadcasting extension with Sky on Wednesday by claiming the ERC has no power to sell television rights past the standing tournament agreement which ends in 2014.

"On the 27th of July, we wrote to both ERC and Sky Sports to tell them that they were not entitled to sell broadcast rights of matches involving Premiership Rugby after 2014," said a spokesman for Premiership Rugby last night.

"We don't think it is a complicated issue. It should be a lot simpler. It seemed the ERC believed that we weren't allowed to sell our rights because of IRB (International Rugby Board) regulations. That is wrong.

"Following Premiership Rugby's agreement with the RFU, dated 16 October 2007, Premiership Rugby has specific consent to control the broadcast rights of its clubs."

In Ireland, the centrally contracted provinces are governed by the all-powerful IRFU. In England and France, the clubs and unions are separate entities and, often, at odds with each other.

The disconnect between the English RFU and the Premiership, like the French union and the Top 14, removes broadcasting power from the union and places it in the hands of the clubs when it comes to selling the rights for club competitions.

Marc Watson, head of BT Vision, has confirmed the broadcaster has secured a £152million deal with Premiership Rugby. This includes the right to screen European matches involving Aviva Premiership clubs for three years from 2014.

It is the first concrete move by the English club hierarchy to break the current Heineken Cup format and the non-qualification process for Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian entrants into Europe.

"We are looking to set up, or at least help set up, a dazzling new European tournament with a fantastic new format, with, we hope, all the best clubs," said Watson.


"We've secured, from the English Premiership, the rights to that for the UK. The Heineken Cup, under its current contract, has another season to run, and that will be the end of it, and we are looking to set up a brand new tournament from then."

In fairness, there is an imbalance in the qualification process with, for instance, Irish clubs resting players for less important Rabodirect PRO12 matches under the Player Welfare Programme, laid down by the IRFU, while English and French clubs scrap for a top six finish to qualify.

The English and French clubs are thought to prefer a qualification process for the six best-placed clubs in the Aviva Premiership, the French Top 14 and PRO12 leagues, along with the Heineken and Amlin champions from the previous season, thus reducing the number of clubs from 24 to 20.