When the news broke about BT’s landmark £152m deal for Aviva Premiership matches, and more importantly the Heineken Cup matches featuring English sides, there would have been two different reactions. Some fans would have recoiled, aghast, while those at several Unions may have seen no difference to their day.
The naive thing would be to assume that this move had not been a long time in the making. With something as complex as rights to cross-border competitions, there should be months of planning. It is the only way to deliver a consistently marketable product.
So when it was put to the SRU that this development was one that could rock their boat, they simply stated: “We are closely watching developments in respect of ERC and the public statements made yesterday. We note the statements of those concerned and will work, with our partners, to ensure a positive outcome.”
This is very likely not the first spin on this issue for those in charge at EH12. Indeed most of the unions will be calmly collecting their statements before the upcoming ERC meeting, next Tuesday. All the main players have representation there, and Scotland are no exception.
Indeed, if this issue is one months in the making, then the only real shock is that the English clubs and Premiership Rugby Ltd. saw the renegade Heineken Cup deal through after any consultations. After all, it suits so many other European unions to keep the format as it is, and they are more than aware of the precedence England set in 1995 when they sought their own rights for 6 Nations games, with Sky. They were slammed down shortly afterwards.
So if Unions in Ireland, Scotland and Wales are as confident as they appear from afar, are familiar with precedence and are assured of their product it will simply be a slugfest between legal practitioners. Will it all be resolved by the time the Heineken Cup is lifted in May? It is unlikely that any outcome will be ‘dazzling’ after PRL’s manoeuvring.
Of course, despite Unions seeming assured of their bearings, there is still the broadcasting issue. Some Sky and ESPN personnel may jump in time for the next Aviva Premiership season. There are certainly worried people at both companies.
Yet it is almost bizarre that this is an issue that could crush broadcasters. From a Celtic standpoint there is a product that many are fiercely proud of, in the RaboDirect Pro12. It has shareholders in the Unions involved, and it is thought to be improving regularly. How could a competition with Leinster, Munster, Osprey, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Llanelli be so unattractive to Sky?
Questions could be put to Unions about theirs and the Pro12’s pursuit of broadcasters, but no governing body worth dealing with would comment on speculation or their marketing wrangles. Instead they will wait to present their case at the ERC meeting and wait for the rulings to be made. They will know a lot more about any potential splinter European competition, yet no Union has looked to allay fears.
In the background it is likely that negotiations may be broached with Sky via the Irish, Scottish or Welsh Unions. Will the always Anglo-centric broadcasters even care? Or, perhaps more prudently, will BT Vision care enough to act, themselves?