Five weeks away from the opening round of the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup, the newly-assembled tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) are hopeful that many of the missing links in the new tournament will fall into place pending completion of a deal for French television coverage.
Much like the emergence of BT Sport into British sports previously broadcast by Sky Sports, this will see the Qatari-owned beIN Sports continue their encroachment on a domain previously dominated by Canal+ in France after last week’s announcement of a four-year deal for the Champions Cup.
EPCR are endeavouring to complete their coverage of the Champions Cup by dint of a deal with France TV which will most probably see just one Champions Cup match, and perhaps one Challenge Cup match, broadcast per week on the French terrestrial television. They hope to announce this deal by the end of this week or next week.
With the beIN Sport deal believed to be worth €17 million per annum, the inclusion of France TV should bring in more than €20 million per year for television coverage in France. This is short of the reputed asking price for the new European Champions Cup of €27 million per year, albeit more than the €15 million previously raised by ERC, while also short of the joint deal with BT and Sky for televising matches in Britain and Ireland which is reputedly worth €31 million per year.
Significantly though, the completion of the television deals ought to make it more feasible for commercial partners to come on board given EPCR can now more accurately estimate how many viewers they will have each weekend.
BeIN Sport, which broadcasts Ligue 1 and the Champions League in France, has 1.5 to 2 million subscribers (some way less than the nine million subscribers with Canal+), which might equate to audiences for live Champions Cup matches of 4-500,000 based on a 25 per cent subscribers watching the game.
But, akin to the reduced audience figures with the less established BT Sport, with whom Premiership Rugby have gambled their all, this is the policy favoured by the Bath owner Bruce Craig, who makes up the executive committee of EPCR along with fellow vice-presidents Paul McNaughton (representing the Pro 12), and Rene Fontes (Top 14). It may also smooth muddied waters between LNR (Ligue nationale de rugby) and beIN Sport following the decision by a French court of arbitration to side with beIN Sport in declaring LNR’s deal €350 million deal over five years for coverage of the Top 14 to be illegal.
The EPCR is also still searching for an independent chairman or president, which had seen the utterly unlikely candidature of Brian O'Driscoll included in the shortlist. The more realistic contenders now are Andy Irvine, Hugo MacNeill and the well-connected Etienne de Villiers, who has served as a director with BBC World, Disney Entertainment, the ATP and Saracens.
With the advent of the French TV deals being completed, the organisers hope to unveil some of new commercial partners with so far only the outgoing title sponsors, Heineken, set to come on board.
Five weeks out from the first round, there remains no sign of a new trophy (or a resolution as to what will happen with the old one), a match ball, refereeing kit, kick-off times and dates for rounds three and four of the pool stages in December.