The Greene King IPA Championship will launch in September with three ‘magic weekend’ double-headers played at neutral venues in the south-west, south-east and midlands/north, creating a ‘23rd game’ on top of the 22-match regular season.
Sandy Park, home of the Exeter Chiefs, is likely to be the venue for Bristol v Cornish Pirates and Jersey v Plymouth, with similar events in the other regions potentially being staged at Worcester’s Sixways and Saracens’ new home, Allianz Park.
The ‘magic weekend’ concept has worked well in Super League since its inception in 2007 and Championship clubs hope the chance to showcase Rugby Union’s burgeoning second tier will stimulate additional interest and revenue.
Sky Sports’ coverage of the Championship is also set for a major revamp, with the satellite TV giant looking to make up for the loss of its Premiership Rugby contract by increasing the minimum number of live Championship games from 11 to 18.
Clubs, though, are concerned that Sky are looking to get rugby on the cheap and that the sponsorship deal with Greene King appears to offer no uplift on the money they already receive. The RFU currently pay Championship clubs £400,000-a-year in lieu of sponsorship, meaning the Greene King deal simply covers that, while Sky are believed to be unwilling to pay more for rights over and above the 11 matches already screened.
Discussions over funding remain ongoing, but one concerned Championship insider told The Rugby Paper: “We get a pittance from Sky anyway and now they want us to give more of our games away. And as far as sponsorship is concerned, while the backing of Greene King is welcome, we’ll actually be getting no more money than before.
“The Championship was created in 2009 in good faith and we’ve done everything the RFU asked. We’ve met all our EQP targets and produced players for the Premiership and England, so we’d now like that faith repaid.”