European rugby chiefs could face a year-long wait to complete the five sponsorship deals for the new-look Champions Cup.
The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup campaign could run its entire course without all five principal commercial partners nailed down, bosses have admitted.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) finally confirmed Heineken as the “founding partner” of the Champions Cup at Monday’s tournament launch in Dublin.
New governing body board director Paul McNaughton said he would be unfazed holding off until next summer to tie down the remaining four sponsorship deals.
“Realistically, I would be happy if all five partners were in place for the beginning of next season,” said the Ireland Rugby Football Union’s EPCR board representative.
“On the commercial front, we could have four or five now, done, but at a much lower value than we ascribe to those sponsor slots.
“So, again, we’re not being smart, but we’re trying to play the long game here.
“When you sign a deal, you’re signing up for four years and we want to get the best deal for the competition.”
McNaughton believes the completion of the long-delayed French and Italian television rights could prove the catalyst for further sponsorship contracts.
The former Ireland team manager admitted the EPCR board expected sponsorship delays as early as May.
“Now that the France TV stuff is over the line it’ll give a stimulus to those discussions,” he said.
“It is fantastic to have Heineken on board as one of the founding partners for the new competition.
“If there was pressure on us to get it done in a month or two, to get it all kind of done before the tournament starts, I suspect you’d be giving away an advantage, in commercial terms.
“We knew as soon as we started as an executive committee last May that it was very unlikely to get five sponsors on.
“We may have a couple of additional (sponsors) by Christmas, but I would project that we will have the five on before the beginning of next season, at the right value.”
Two years of political wrangling eventually yielded the Champions Cup, to replace the 19-year-long Heineken tournament, with meritocratic qualification and record British broadcast deals in place.
Tournament revenues are expected to rise by 60 per cent as a result of the rights-sharing British deal between rival broadcasters BT Sport and Sky Sports.
European bosses finally unveiled trophies, the Gilbert match ball and match officials’ kit laid on by Canterbury at Monday’s launch.