Pan-European resolution seems that bit closer after meeting
TV deals remain a stumbling block as new tournament format and rules agreed
IRFU chief executive Phillip Browne, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, will travel on to London today for a meeting of Celtic Rugby Ltd. Photograph: Inpho
A resolution to the impasse regarding a future pan-European Cup involving all six competing nations moved a step closer yesterday after a positive meeting between the respective stakeholders at a Paris hotel.
The major stumbling block remains, namely conflicting TV deals between Sky and BT, but it appears three options involving separate or joint coverage between the two extra-terrestrial broadcasters are now being pursued.
Yesterday’s meeting – chaired by the Six Nations committee and involving representatives from the Six Nations as well as Premiership Rugby (PRL), Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and the Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) – was much shorter than last week’s longer return to the table after months of disharmony and stand-offs.
However much progress has already been made at last week’s meeting and behind the scenes, and yesterday’s Six Nations Committee statement said: “The meeting was constructive and progress was made, with all parties working towards a European competition.” A WRU statement followed swiftly, describing the meeting as “positive and constructive.”
Matters have now moved on to the vexed issue of television rights, given the conflicting deals between the ERC and Sky for the latter’s continuation of the Heineken Cup, and PRL’s deal with BT.
Most likely some form of working party chosen from those in attendance yesterday will now pursue their options, which are essentially threefold.
Sky climb down
Premiership Rugby insist that coverage must incorporate BT, but for BT to have exclusive rights this would require Sky to climb down in return for financial compensation.
Alternatively, a broadcasting deal could be fleshed out whereby BT and Sky share coverage, as happens with the Premier Division in football.
The third, and perhaps least likely option which has apparently been mooted, is for Sky to continue broadcasting the pan-European tournament, with BT being given compensation in the form of covering England’s autumn internationals.
The issues of revenue split, qualification, governance and commercial rights appear to have been largely settled, and in essence, it seems the PRL have been granted everything which they’ve demanded – or threatened breakaway Anglo-French or Anglo-Welsh competitions – despite details of their BT contract never having been divulged. This would entail a three-way split of revenue between the three competing leagues – Aviva Premiership, French Top 14 and the Pro12 – along with a new meritocratic qualification system for a tournament reduced from 24 to 20 teams.
This in turn would entail six places each for the English and French clubs, with another additional qualifier from one of those leagues based on meritocracy.
This would leave seven qualifiers from the Pro12, with each of the four competing countries guaranteed one place and the next three based on positions in the table. In other words, a top four place would guarantee qualification.
Regarding governance, Premiership Rugby has long since refused to accept a European competition ruled by ERC for next season, and given the non-attendance of any ERC representatives at these last two meetings of all stakeholders, the new tournament will evidently be run by the Six Nations rather than ERC, while clubs and regions would have a greater input over commercial aspects of the competition.
ERC continue to hold board meetings and last week refused to release overdue tournament appearance payments to the clubs, evidently fearing liabilities in the event of them being wound up at the end of the season.
The only IRFU representative in attendance was chief executive Phillip Browne, who will travel on to London today for a meeting of Celtic Rugby Ltd.
The future of the Pro12 is inextricably linked with a solution regarding the future of a European Cup, and with the Pro12 re-established as the qualification method for such a competition, for all their own stand-offs with the WRU and the Italian federation, it seems likely that the regions along with Treviso will have little option but to return to the fold.
Treviso want more financial support from their federation, who in turn want a significant reduction on the €3 million a year they pump into the Pro12, and both are likely to have their wishes granted to some degree.
It many respects though, the future of both competitions hinge on negotiations with BT and Sky, and particularly whether the latter hang tough with regard to retaining some or all of their existing broadcasting rights to the Heineken Cup.
As to whether the new competition, now seemingly more likely to be run by a new governing body in place of ERC, will still have Heineken as sits title sponsor also remains to be seen.