RFU enters row between ERC and Premier Rugby over TV deal

 

The Rugby Football Union has entered the television contract dispute by stating it did not give permission to Premier Rugby to sell European rights.

Premier Rugby, which represents England's top 12 clubs, is in conflict with European Rugby Cup (ERC).

ERC, which oversees the Heineken Cup, believes Premier Rugby exceeded its powers by selling European rights to BT Vision for three years from 2014.

Background

  • The Heineken features clubs from the countries that play in the Six Nations: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy
  • The second-tier Challenge Cup has teams from the Six Nations countries, plus Romania and Spain
  • The competitions are governed by European Rugby Cup (ERC), which has an agreement with the clubs running until 2014
  • English and French clubs have given two years' notice they intend to withdraw from the competitions when the agreement expires in 2014
  • They argue that clubs in the RaboDirect Pro12 league, which covers Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, have an unfair advantage in Europe
  • Their argument is that, because the Pro12 has no relegation, teams can rest players for league matches to keep them fresh for European games
  • Premier Rugby also says it can boost revenue for all clubs with its new deal

And an RFU statement has confirmed that it did not give approval for the deal.

Premier Rugby announced a £152m, four-year agreement with BT Vision on Wednesday.

The deal covers Premiership games from next season, but also includes a three-year arrangement for BT Vision to show live European matches involving leading English clubs.

But ERC, which is also responsible for the Amlin Challenge Cup, claimed it was the only organisation that could negotiate TV rights and announced a four-year deal with BSkyB, running until 2018.

There is, however, currently no agreement in place to continue the Heineken or Amlin Challenge Cups beyond 2014.

Premier Rugby claimed it had been given authority to sell the rights as part of an eight-year agreement with the RFU signed in October 2007.

But that version of events has been dismissed by the RFU, English rugby's governing body, which called for the Heineken Cup board to find a compromise when it meets in Dublin on Tuesday.

"The RFU will continue to liaise with all stakeholders in order to help reach a conclusion which benefits all," said an RFU statement.

The TV dispute

  • BT: Premier Rugby says BT has exclusive rights to broadcast Premiership matches from next season, and European games involving Premiership sides in the UK from the 2014-15 season
  • Sky: ERC says Sky has exclusive rights to broadcast European games in the UK from the 2014-15 season

"While the RFU has not given consent to Premiership Rugby to grant European broadcasting rights, we believe it is important to work with them and with all parties involved to find common ground.

"We anticipate that this process will begin at the ERC stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, September 18."

English and French clubs announced during the summer that they planned to withdraw from the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups when the current agreement governing the competitions expires in 2014.

But the planned move is seen as a negotiating tactic to push through changes to the way in which European rugby union's leading club cup competitions are run.