IRFU at risk from doubts over Heineken Cup future

The uncertain future of the Heineken Cup is a significant risk to the IRFU’s financial health, the union’s Annual Council meeting was told last night.

English and French clubs have placed the competition under threat by signalling their intent to withdraw at the end of the 2013/14 season. The clubs are unhappy with the current structure and the qualifying process.

While that appears to be posturing ahead of discussions expected to begin in the autumn, treasurer Tom Grace warned delegates they must not take the threat to the competition lightly.

ERC income improved by €1.8m for the union last year, contributing to a €7.8m surplus, with Leinster and Ulster’s march to May’s final the reason behind the increased revenue.

IRFU chief Philip Browne admitted the union may have to give a little to preserve the competition’s future.

“One assumes we will reach some sort of accommodation through a negotiation process and that will, I assume, begin this autumn,” he said.

“The French and English clubs have made their intention to withdraw from the Heineken Cup and there is a two-year period in which we can reach agreement with them in relation to the competition or alternatively the competition ceases.

“The reality is, like any negotiation, there will have to be give and take from both sides. I don’t think anyone has laid out their position yet, it is early days.

“But inevitably there will be some sort of change in which either the competition is structured or the finances are shared. Those are the two variables, one assumes, and we’ll have to wait and see.”

Browne welcomed the union’s surplus of €7.8m, which came about as a result of revenues of €67.3m and expenditure of €59.4m.

But he and Grace warned the union were still operating in a tough financial state, because of Irish economic woes and the fact that approximately 3,200 of the union’s 10-year tickets expire next season.

“We had a great year in many ways,” he said. “In terms of performances of the provinces in particular, the national team performed well in terms of attracting crowds.

“We still have a struggle financially in trying to deal with the debt on the stadium. Repayments have to be made next year to the bank, but it is the same kind of challenge facing any business or organisation and we have to face up to that.

“I would envisage that a number of the 10-year tickets will be taken up, but equally some won’t. I think we will have a strong offering and I believe there will be take up of that.”

Meanwhile, Galwegians and Connacht’s Billy Glynn has been appointed president of the IRFU for 2012/13.

A retired solicitor and revenue sheriff from Galway, Glynn played for an Irish U23 XV before retiring prematurely due to a neck injury at the age of 24. He has since acted as chairman of the Connacht senior team selection committee and was Connacht branch president in 2000/1.

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