European chiefs question new English TV deal
European rugby officials have questioned the validity of a new £152 million ($245 million) television deal announced Wednesday by the English Premiership.
The four-year contract, which starts next season, will see BT Vision as the only platform on which to watch top-flight English club rugby.
However, the organisers of the European Cup and the second-tier European Challenge Cup, say a clause in the new deal granting BT exclusive live broadcast rights to matches played by Premiership clubs in any future European competitions from 2014-15 for three years is invalid.
In a statement issued following a board meeting at its Dublin headquarters on Wednesday, European Rugby Cup (ERC) said the “purported deal” was in breach both of International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations and a mandate from the ERC board itself.
The statement said it was “unanimously agreed” at an ERC board meeting on June 6 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with satellite broadcaster Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the European Cup and the European Challenge Cup until 2018.
It added: “Premiership Rugby was party to that decision”.
An earlier statement issued by Premiership Rugby insisted their new broadcasting agreement would bolster European club rugby union as a whole.
“It’s an outstanding deal to support the continued development of Premiership Rugby and in addition, the value of the European element from our clubs’ rights will serve to help strengthen European rugby in its future competitions", said Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty.
“Although the exact format of European competitions post 2014 is not yet agreed between the parties in Europe, this deal will certainly strengthen European club rugby for all parties,” he added.
A meeting involving the ERC and the competing clubs to discuss the future format of European tournaments after the existing agreement runs out at the end of the 2013/14 season is due to take place in Dublin on Tuesday.
English and French teams are currently in dispute with ERC and are threatening a break-away competition.
French clubs have put forward a proposal for a European Cup reduced from the current 24 teams to 20 based on six from England, six from France and six from the Celtic League, as well as the reigning champions and the winners of the second tier European Challenge Cup.
The Celtic League element is controversial as it could lead to a European Cup without guaranteed representation from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy, as happens at present.
Unlike the Premiership and France’s Top 14, there is no relegation from the Celtic League.
English and French clubs have long believed this gives Irish provinces in particular an unfair advantage, as they can rest players from domestic duty ahead of European Cup ties without much fear of the consequences.
Between them Munster and Leinster have won four out of the last five European Cups, with Leinster beating Irish rivals Ulster in last season’s final as they lifted the trophy for the third time.
The present stand-off has echoes of a similar impasse in 1999 when England were briefly expelled from the then Five Nations.
Back then England’s governing Rugby Football Union was accused of reneging on an agreement negotiated two years earlier in which it agreed to release some of the £87 million (then $143 million) it gained from satellite broadcaster BSkyB to three other competing nations, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.