European competitions
Not so much a brave new world as a familiar one
Martin Williamson
March 23, 2014
A headline in the <I>Daily Telegraph</I> announces a broadcast breakthrough on the future of European rugby, February 14, 2014
Peace was first headlined in February ... but confirmation is only coming this week © Getty Images

Confirmation of the new structure for European rugby from the start of next season should be made public this week, although so there have been so many leaks that it will hardly be news to anyone.

Heads of agreement are likely to be signed on Tuesday with an announcement of the competition to the wider world expected on Wednesday

As the dust settles on a fractious year, all the talk will be of money and how rugby is the winner. The most bandied-about - and headline grabbing - figure will be the £100 million those involved insist the competition will be worth, more than doubling the current revenue from the Heineken Cup.

When the details are analysed, it is fairly clear the clubs have won. The end product is not a million miles away from what they proposed but with agreement reached it will be sold as a compromise, a triumph for common sense and for sport.

"This is a victory for everyone," a spokesman for PRL, the English Premiership's umbrella organisation, told the Rugby Paper. "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."

Expect a lot more similar rhetoric in the coming week.

Any doubt that the clubs have won can be ended when looking at who runs the new tournament - a four-man executive with one representative from each of the three major European Leagues under an independent chairman. Not a union in sight. And the compromise name? The Champions Cup. And the ERC, which runs the current events, will be replaced by a new Swiss-based company.

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 bluechip sponsors and television deals.

The £100 million is dependent on lucrative commercial deals and burgeoning television rights, but it is not an unattainable figure. The organisers have also gone down the UEFA Champions League route of not looking for one headline sponsor but opting for four partners instead. Expect theme tunes and more intrusive on-field and TV advertising as a price.

The assumption has to be made that a far-less-likely compromise has also been reached between subscription channels BT Sport and BSkyB in the UK. The rumours are that there will be a similar picking system as operates in football, but with BT Sport in the driving seat.

Rugby and relationships have been damaged by the often tawdry row. But at least clubs and fans know what they can look forward to and what is on offer is so similar to the current Heineken Cup that it is unlikely to alienate any current followers.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media

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