BT Vision boss Marc Watson reveals plans for 'dazzling new European tournament'

 

BT Vision boss Marc Watson has revealed plans for “a dazzling new European tournament” that will inevitably cast huge uncertainty over the Heineken Cup's future.

The European game is still digesting yesterday's Premiership Rugby announcement of a £152 million, four-year deal with the broadcaster.

BT Vision will show live Aviva Premiership games from the start of next season instead of Sky Sports and ESPN, but a key part of their involvement is also screening live European matches involving Premiership clubs for three seasons from 2015.

And chief executive Watson's comments today will do nothing to alter a sense of disarray in European rugby following Premiership Rugby's bombshell news which came just hours before European Cup Rugby (ERC) revealed a four-year extension with existing Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup live broadcaster Sky.

English and French clubs are currently in dispute with ERC over the Heineken Cup's structure, especially its qualification format, and are threatening to set up an alternative competition when the current agreement ends in 2014.

And Watson has now upped the ante on that front.

"We are looking to set up, or at least help set up, a dazzling new European tournament with a fantastic new format, with, we hope, all the best clubs," he told http://www.sportspromedia.com.

"And we've secured, from the English Premiership, the rights to that for the UK. That tournament will be the successor to the Heineken Cup, which is a very successful tournament.

"The Heineken Cup, under its current contract, has another season to run, and that will be the end of it, and we are looking to set up a brand new tournament from then.

"We saw in rugby an opportunity to own a sport exclusively, certainly at club level, and the rights that we've bought give us an opportunity to do that.

"We are hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2015 in the UK. It's a great opportunity in the two years running up to that, we think, to grow the sport.

"It's a sport that has got a long way to go. We were attracted by the idea of growing with it, and helping it to grow in the UK."

A meeting of ERC stakeholders is due to be held in Dublin next Tuesday.

Premier Rugby, though, has already claimed ERC had no right to sell television rights beyond expiry of the current tournament accord in 2014, which along with top French clubs, they have already served notice to quit.

"As a result of notice being served, ERC is not entitled after 2014 to sell the broadcast rights of matches involving Premiership Rugby clubs," said Premiership Rugby, in a statement.

"ERC's suggestion that Premiership Rugby may be in breach of IRB (International Rugby Board) regulations is wrong.

"Following Premiership Rugby's agreement with the RFU, dated 16 October 2007, Premiership Rugby has specific consent to control the broadcast rights of its clubs."

ERC claimed Premiership Rugby's European arrangement with BT Vision was "in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC board itself".

"European club rugby's six participant Unions have granted the authority to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to ERC," ERC said, in a statement.

"It was unanimously agreed at an ERC board meeting on June 6, 2012 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup until 2018. Premiership Rugby was party to that decision."

Wasps rugby director David Young, meanwhile, said he felt any loss of the Heineken Cup would be "a big blow".

But he also backed Premiership Rugby's stance that existing Heineken Cup qualification criteria requires scrutiny.

"The Heineken Cup is a competition that every player wants to be successful in, and it would be a big blow if it isn't there," Young said.

"I am sure ultimately it will be sorted out because over the years we've always had these spats, but things always get sorted out and done for the better.

"This isn't about money. It's about having a true best of the best competition.

"The automatic qualification that certain countries have doesn't exist in the Aviva Premiership.

"It's harder to qualify for the Heineken Cup from the Premiership than the Celtic league (RaboDirect PRO12). It doesn't seem fair.

"The Heineken Cup shouldn't be there to develop, it should be about the best against the best. You can understand why English and French clubs object to automatic qualification.

"You can't really call the Heineken Cup the best of the best if the best teams in Europe are not necessarily in there."

PA

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