After a bitter two-year power struggle to wrestle control from the Unions, the clubs believe the club-run European Champions’ Cup gives them the commercial clout to more than double the £44m revenue from this season’s last Heineken Cup.
The new competition will be run by the clubs for the clubs through a four-man executive – one representative from each of the three major European Leagues under an independent chairman.
The name, Champions’ Cup, will be as the English and French clubs proposed six months ago. While one international legislator described it as “the rout of the Unions”, the English clubs along with their staunch Welsh regional allies refused to indulge in any triumphalism.
“This is a victory for everyone,” a spokesman for PRL, the English Premiership’s umbrella organisation (Premier Rugby Ltd) said last night. “This is not about winners or losers.
“It’s about creating a better Europe for the benefit of everyone. As from next season, the developing rugby nations will, for the first time, be playing in a European competition knowing they have a pathway to the top.
“If they’re good enough, they could be playing in the Champions’ Cup in five years. Now we can really push back the frontiers to include cities outside the Six Nations circuit, like Geneva, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid and Brussels.”
One of the chief English architects of the new Europe claims it has the potential to be worth £100 million-a-season in five years time – the vast majority of it from blue-chip sponsors and television deals.
The new company, to be based in Switzerland as revealed in The Rugby Paper in January, plan to appoint four major commercial partners as opposed to one title sponsor. Three major television deals are in the process of being negotiated with BT Sport, Sky and Canal+, the French satellite company behind a five-year deal worth £300m for exclusive rights to the Top 14 and Pro D2 competitions.
English power brokers paid tribute yesterday to the unflinching support of the four Welsh regions as the single most critical factor in the clubs’ fight for a fairer deal over Europe. The serious threat of the Welsh regions joining the English League and both parties breaking away from their respective Unions brought the row to a head.
“We felt confident enough that we could survive for up to five years with an Anglo-Welsh League,” one English club owner said. “We would also have taken the Unions to the European Court of Human Rights and been very confident of winning.
“The Welsh regions stood solidly with us through some pretty rough times, especially for them. That’s something we shall not forget.
“There was also a growing recognition that the old system in Europe, as run by European Rugby Cup Ltd, wasn’t working nearly as well as it should have been. We’d been talking about these issues long before we and the French clubs served our notice to quit nearly two years ago.
“The new competitions will generate significantly more income which will benefit European rugby in its widest sense. We have a lot of potential sponsors who see this as a fantastic opportunity. In five years’ time it could be worth £100m-a-year.” The deal will double income from the tournament for the English clubs and Welsh regions. They will share the €20m guarantee made by PRL to the Pro 12 clubs whose four competing countries are assured of at least one place in the Champions’ Cup irrespective of where they finish in the table.
The regions have still to resolve their domestic issues with the WRU over an un-signed participation agreement. “This whole deal could have been done and dusted last October,” one regional source said. “Instead the Welsh and Irish Unions have held it up for five months.
“At last we’ve got what we wanted over Europe but it’s come at a hell of a price. Those five months of endless bickering have had a serious affect on all our businesses.”
European Rugby Champions’ Cup as the three domestic leagues stand:
Aviva Premiership (6): Saracens, Northampton, Bath, Leicester, Sale, Quins.
Top 14 (6): Clermont, Toulon, Montpellier, Castres, Stade Francais, Toulouse.
Pro 12 (7): Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Ospreys, Glasgow, Scarlets, Treviso.
Play-off for 20th place between 7th ranked English club (currently Wasps) and 7th ranked French club (currently Racing Metro) over two-legs, beginning May 16-18.
Second tier Europe: Amlin Cup as now – 18 clubs plus two from play-offs.
Third tier: Champion clubs from domestic competitions in Italy, Georgia, Russia, Romania.
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