Cup organisers surprised at TV row
The organisers of the Heineken Cup have expressed their surprise at Premiership Rugby's decision to negotiate their own TV rights deal, but they are still hopeful some kind of compromise can be struck.
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Last month the future of European club rugby was plunged in to disarray following an announcement by Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL), who represent English top-flight clubs, that they had agreed a £152million deal with BT to show domestic and European matches from 2014 onwards.
The announcement infuriated the European Rugby Cup (ERC) - who run the Heineken Cup and had already announced a separate TV deal with Sky Sports.
A meeting between the two warring factions in Dublin last week ended without agreement and another is scheduled to take place next Monday in Rome.
The ERC insisted PRL do not have the authority to agree TV deals for competitions that happen outside their borders and the governing body's chief executive Derek McGrath hit out at PRL for thinking that all the clubs involved would accept their proposal.
"There was a lot of surprise and there continues to be in terms of the decision to pre-judge an outcome," McGrath said.
"We have a centralised approach to marketing. That is what all the unions have approved and that's what is recognised under the International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations so to do things in a different way is not only pre-judging an outcome, it's also doing it outside the institutions that are set down and respected by everyone.
"While there have always been challenges, there always has been respect for each other's country and cultures, etc. This has changed the agenda."
PRL insist they were allowed to negotiate their own contract as part of a deal currently in place with the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
The RFU themselves are investigating PRL's claim, but McGrath thinks they do not have the RFU's permission to negotiate a separate deal.
"The board can only reject a deal that is not receiving the authority of (the country's respective) union under IRB regulations," he said.
"We understand that no approval was sought so therefore the ERC, even if it wanted to, couldn't recognise any such dealing."
PRL's announcement has led to fears that the Heineken Cup's 17-year-old existence could come to an end.
The English clubs, and their French counterparts, are currently unhappy at qualification criteria and scheduling of the tournament.
The English teams are unhappy that Celtic clubs can rest their players for domestic games as unlike in England, there is no relegation or promotion in the RaboDirect PRO 12 league.
The schism between the English teams and their European counterparts has led to fears that Aviva Premiership sides will have to leave the Heineken Cup and form their own competition, but McGrath is hopeful of a compromise being struck to satisfy all parties.
"There is no concern about change. We have a history of changing things, doing things differently," he added at the launch of the 2012-13 Heineken Cup in London.
"Each party comes to the table each with their own business model to defend and everyone wants to prosper in difficult circumstances.
"All the clubs are very keen that the competition generates bigger rewards for everyone and that is what ERC has always done.
"It's right and proper that we should do it and that we shouldn't be afraid to consider any issues, proposals or challenges to the business, but there are some fundamentals in terms of how we approach that and how we have always approached doing business together."