Hot on the heels of Premier Rugby's announcement of a deal with BT for Premiership Rugby rights Sky Sports have announced a new new four-year deal with the ERC for exclusive live coverage of European Rugby competitions.
The new deal for the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup with ERC and Sky initially appears to be in conflict with Premier Rugby's announcement earlier today over the broadcast rights to future European Rugby unless English and French clubs leave European Cup Rugby as it now stands.
Premier Rugby had announced earlier that BT would have, "Exclusive live broadcast rights to matches of Aviva Premiership teams in any future European competitions for three years starting from the 2014-15 season."
Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty said that, "Although the exact format of European competitions post 2014 is not yet agreed between the parties in Europe, this deal will certainly strengthen European club rugby for all parties."
Sky say that their new extended contract starts in the autumn of 2014, after the current deal, and will extend the long-standing relationship with the ERC to the end of the 2017-2018 season, a 15th year.
Under the new ERC deal Sky Sports will continue to hold exclusive live rights to:
- The Heineken Cup : Exclusive live matches from each of the first four rounds, plus all knock out stages and finals for a further four seasons, across the UK and Ireland.
- Amlin Challenge Cup: Exclusive live coverage of matches in the opening rounds, knockout stages, both Semi-Finals and the Final across the UK and Ireland.
Sky Sports Managing Director Barney Francis said of the extended deal, "This new deal with the ERC gives us live European Rugby for another four seasons."
Premier Rugby and French clubs spoke recently about a possible breakaway from Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup rugby as they felt the rules were not equal for all nations.
As Premier Rugby appear to have sold the exclusive rights to English Rugby in Europe and Sky now have exclusive rights to Heineken Cup rugby an English-French split from the Heineken Cup appears to be inevitable.
Meanwhile ERC have questioned whether Premier Rugby had the right to sell the UK broadcast rights to European club rugby tournaments.
ERC say that they are awaiting further information regarding Premiership Rugby's proposed agreement with BT, the ERC Board, which met in Dublin today, believes that any such agreement would be 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.
"It was unanimously agreed at an ERC Board meeting on 6 June, 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 and Premiership Rugby were party to that decision."
"ERC remains determined to honour its own commercial commitments and to continue its work to further develop the European club game."
However Premiership Rugby released a statement saying that notice was served on ERC and their Board by Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby stating that the the current Accord comes to an end in 2014.
Premiership Rugby said in a statement that, "As a result of notice being served, ERC is not entitled after 2014 to sell the broadcast rights of matches involving Premiership Rugby clubs. On 27 July 2012 ERC was reminded of this in writing, and this was copied to Sky Sports."
"We also note ERC's reference to its Board Meeting on 6 June 2012. No specific broadcast deal was presented or voted on at this or any subsequent ERC Board meeting. In any case any such deal could not have included matches involving Premiership Rugby clubs."
"ERC's suggestion that Premiership Rugby may be in breach of IRB 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."
"The deal which Premiership Rugby has completed with BT is financially strong for Premiership Rugby clubs and future European competitions bringing up to £152m into the game over the next four years. When any future European competition launches in 2014, BT will have exclusive rights to broadcast the matches played by Premiership Rugby clubs."
All ERC stakeholders are scheduled to convene in Dublin on Tuesday, 18 September to begin the formulation of a new Shareholder Agreement for the 2014/15 season and beyond.
The meeting is expected to be a lively one.