RFU hit back over TV rights

  • Last Updated: September 14 2012, 17:51 BST

The Rugby Football Union has said it had not consented to Premiership Rugby granting European broadcasting rights.

The future of the Heineken Cup is up in the air

Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation for England's top 12 clubs, announced on Wednesday a £152milllion, four-year deal with BT Vision.

In addition to rights for Premiership games from next season, the deal includes a three-year arrangement for BT Vision to show live European matches involving leading English clubs from 2014.

European Rugby Cup, who oversee the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions, are adamant that Premiership Rugby breached International Rugby Board regulations by negotiating European rights.

Premiership Rugby, though, claimed they had such authority as part of an eight-year, wide-ranging agreement thrashed out with the RFU in 2007.

But Twickenham chiefs have now confirmed that no permission was given.

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

"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."

France's Top 14 clubs, meanwhile, are demanding a swift resolution to the schism that threatens the future of European rugby.

Negotiations between ERC stakeholders at next Tuesday's Dublin meeting will be of critical importance after Patrick Wolff, the vice-president of the French National Rugby League, revealed the French will demand immediate answers over the TV rights issue.

Premiership Rugby's new TV deal appeared to spell the end of the Heineken Cup from 2014, with a new tournament set to take its place.

ERC responded robustly by declaring only they have the power to negotiate TV rights and subsequently announced a new four-year deal signed with Sky until 2018.

Wolff hopes this week's developments are just posturing before the vital meeting in Dublin and has set a December deadline for a final agreement to be reached.

"For us the most important thing is that we don't want to waste one or two years on lawyers explaining who has the rights," Wolff told Press Association Sport.

"We want a quick answer. If we waste two years on the TV rights everyone will lose - Celts, English and French.

"Everything must be over by the end of the year, we don't want any battles in the law courts.

"We hope all these stories that have emerged are just the usual pressure before the start of negotiations. If that is the case then there is a chance to finish before the end of the year.

"It is not our understanding that ERC only have the right to negotiate TV rights. At the meeting we want to know exactly who has this right.

"We think it will be very easy for this to be decided. We want an answer from the English and ERC. Then the French clubs will do their best to reach an understanding."

The interests of the Premiership and Top 14 clubs are closely aligned as both are seeking a greater share of revenue and a fairer qualification process, which currently favours teams from the RaboDirect Pro12.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty last month threatened that an Anglo-French breakaway league would be formed if their demands are not met.

However, the English clubs appear to be operating alone as Wolff insists the details of the new TV deal with BT Vision are unknown to the Top 14.

"We want more information about the deal, mainly what part of the contract is dedicated to the Heineken Cup and what types of TV rights have been sold," Wolff said.

"Without this information, which we haven't been given, it is difficult to have an accurate opinion.

"Regardless of any TV contract, what is important to the French clubs is that a European competition is built with the best clubs.

"That means English clubs and of course the Celtic clubs as well. We want to play against the French and English clubs.

"We are not considering our own TV deal at the moment. We are not following the wind - whether it is a Celtic or English wind.

"We won't follow things blindly, we consider the whole and want the stakeholders to stick together.

"The Heineken Cup is a very good competition and we don't want to kill it."