The threat may be great but McGrath says rewards are greater
Mediator key in forlorn hopes of finding a solution to Euro impasse
Despite admitting the future of the ERC’s flagship tournaments has never been so imperilled, chief executive Derek McGrath maintains the rewards for resolving the current logjam have also never been greater. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
The dark clouds gathered on a grim and wet day in Dublin which, seemed apt for ERC’s Irish launch of this season’s Heineken and Amlin Cups in Sky’s Dublin offices yesterday.
Yet despite admitting the future of the ERC’s flagship tournaments has never been so imperilled, chief executive Derek McGrath maintained the rewards for resolving the current logjam have also never been greater.
The stakes are higher than in 2007, when the last accord was resolved on the eve of the Heineken Cup final, and there are also new high rollers who can afford the higher stakes, be it BT, beIN Sport or multi-millionaire club owners.
Even so, McGrath drew encouragement from history. “When have you said that before? We’ve been here before. That’s the important thing to remember. There are new personalities sitting around the table who haven’t been here before. The stakes have gone up, but the tournament is much more valuable as well. The game has moved on. The competition has moved on, so there is more at stake for everybody.”
“So yes, the danger is greater, but also the opportunities are greater and if we get this right, the success can build.”
However, with the English clubs seemingly beyond the point of no return, critical to hopes of a resolution is the mediator, Graham Mew.
For the moment, McGrath explained, Mew does not report to the ERC. “First of all he is trying to achieve credibility with all of the parties individually and then to agree an objective with all the parties, and ultimately that is to get back around the table and to find solutions. He can achieve that once he gets engagement.”
Hindsight being 20-20 vision, oughtn’t the ERC have looked to kick-start mediation talks sooner? “No, because we’ve had 15 meetings and we raised the idea of a mediator probably 12 months ago. But things have become so polarised, we believe now a mediator can help, although a mediator can only help if he gets engagement.”
Expressing sympathy for the RFU’s difficult balancing act in maintaining good relationships between the polar extremes of their own clubs and their fellow Unions, McGrath augmented the comments from IRFU chief executive Philip Browne suggesting the RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is facilitating unofficial talks.
Interestingly, McGrath confirmed that even the RFU have not actually seen the BT deal.
“I understand that they have been presented figures, but not contracts.”
Regarding the proposed Anglo-French breakaway tournament, McGrath said: “From what we’ve heard of this new competition, it sounds like it’s going to pretty much look like what exists today. It’s built on the same format, it would appear, from what we read in the press. Even its valuations appear to be leveraging the valuations that exist today.”
McGrath said this year the ERC would be “growing revenues to €55m this year” – a €10m increase on last season, “and that compares extremely well to estimates which are being put out about potential deals that may be put in place.”
As to the Celtic/Italian unified response of last Thursday eschewing involvement in the breakaway tournament and preference for a pan-European tournament approved by the IRB, McGrath played down the absence of “ERC” from those four statements.
“They were responding to the FFR statement – which did include ERC. But that’s not important. What we want to see is discussions on the merits of the tournament. Ultimately what we come up with, the the executive do what everyone agrees – the division of finances, who gets to play and when.
“But I’m certain, because I know, that none of the unions were intending to suggest the ERC, of itself, is no longer part of the equation ....
“In fact they’ve all said that the current institutions are the best vehicle in order to take them involved. And clearly when you have all of the experience that exists around the ERC and across all the facets of running a tournament, it would be crazy to take that away and just go with a start-up situation and try and do what we’ve been doing for 18 years.”