TV battle puts Heineken Cup at risk
BT Vision boss Marc Watson has sounded an apparent death knell for the Heineken Cup.
The tournament's future is under a cloud after the broadcaster secured a £152 million deal with Premiership Rugby that includes live broadcast rights for European games played by Aviva Premiership clubs for three years from 2014.
In response, satellite broadcaster BSkyB said it had agreed a new four-year deal with European Rugby Cup (ERC) to show European club competitions from 2014, bringing it into direct dispute with BT.
English and French clubs are in dispute with ERC over the tournament's structure and are threatening to set up an alternative when the current agreement ends in 2014.
"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," Watson told Sportspromedia.
Chief executive Watson, whose company will also show live Premiership rugby matches from the start of next season, added: "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."
Watson's comments will do nothing to alter the sense of disarray in the European game following Premiership Rugby's announcement. On Wednesday, ERC revealed a four-year extension with existing Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup live broadcaster Sky.
And ERC also reacted to Premiership Rugby's statement surrounding future live European coverage by claiming their deal 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," they said in a statement.
A meeting of ERC stakeholders is due to be held in Dublin next Tuesday.