South African franchises have been a linked with European plans to create a global rugby tournament in the near future.
According to The Guardian, there are secret plans being made among Europe’s richest clubs to establish a breakaway tournament, which would include South African franchises. The UK newspaper also confirmed that there are separate proposals to create a world club championship, which would include the champions of the English Premiership, Pro12 and French Top 14 and European Cup, as well as the winners of Super Rugby and the respective Australian, New Zealand and South African logs.
It is believed that only money is the issue stopping these plans. The European Cup is run by the European Rugby Cup Ltd, which acts on behalf of the unions involved. The tournament’s turnover has doubled in five years to just over €50m (about R545m) but there are many who believe the competition is capable of generating far more.
Frustrated clubs are aware the existing five-year ERC accord ends in June, although any stakeholder wishing to exit the tournament is still required to give two years’ notice. All the tournament’s major TV contracts expire in 2014 and Heineken’s title sponsorship deal runs until 2013. The strict salary cap in England remains a further bone of contention for millionaire club owners who, despite the economic turmoil across Europe, are seeking to expand.
‘From an English and French clubs’ point of view the European Cup is a growing competition but it is essentially controlled by the unions and played by the clubs,’ said an anonymous prominent club figure. ‘There are some English and French clubs who do not regard that as an ideal situation. There is also a growing weariness in South Africa with Sanzar [South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby]. They feel they’re at a playing disadvantage by constantly having to travel and, despite having more commercial pulling power, do not get a proportionally bigger share of the revenue. They feel South Africa is subsidising Australia and New Zealand, which are relatively small markets.’
In a recent interview with SA Rugby magazine, Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths echoed the same sentiments. Saracens will take their European Cup tie against Biarritz to Cape Town in January.
‘I’’m not sure if that will be possible and whether the IRB will allow it [a global club competition], but I do believe new competition structures need to be implemented. The English clubs are suffering major losses. There was a total loss of R300 million from all clubs after last season, so there needs to be some changes made,’ said Griffiths.
‘It would be a positive step for South African franchises to join forces with European clubs. The time zone is similar and it’s easier to travel to London and Paris than it is to Sydney or Auckland. This would make it easier for all clubs and franchises to earn a profit while it will also create a fresh and appealing spectacle for fan.’