Rebel clubs aim to buy peace


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The Independent Online

England’s Premiership clubs will attempt to buy the favour of their Celtic and continental counterparts in Dublin on Tuesday in a bid to settle the row over control of European competitions.

Premiership Rugby (PRL) want more money from, and influence in, European club affairs and have long argued they are better placed to negotiate commercial contracts than the national unions who have a majority on the European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC) Board running the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.

Chief executive Mark McCafferty and chairman Peter Wheeler of Leicester intend to make PRL’s point at Tuesday’s meeting of ERC stakeholders by offering to throw a big part of the £152m from their new deal with BT into the European pot. A PRL source promised the offer would be a “significant uplift” on ERC’s current TV deal with Sky in the UK and Ireland believed to be worth £62m over the four years until 2014.

PRL announced last Wednesday they had sold BT the UK broadcast rights to English clubs’ matches in the Aviva Premiership for four years from next season and in “any future European competitions” for three years from 2014 when the current ERC accord ends.

BT would want to broadcast the whole European tournament, not just English clubs’ matches.

The extra money might interest the hard-up Welsh regions but it would require ERC – the unions and clubs of England, France, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy – to abandon the collective bargaining that has underpinned the Heineken Cup since it began in 1995.

ERC insist PRL was party to the agreement also announced on Wednesday for Sky to renew their European coverage for four years from 2014, at an increased fee of around £72m, but that was denied by one leading English club source yesterday.

Had PRL’s proposed 20-team format for the top-tier European competition been in operation this season the two Italian teams, Edinburgh and Connacht would have missed out on playing in the Heineken Cup.

PRL also propose a new third-tier competition for developing nations to qualify for the tier above. Former Premiership chief executive Howard Thomas, now working for the Rugby Union of Russia, has paved the way for the Russian champions to take part.