PRO14 chief executive Martin Anayi believes the competition’s two new South African franchises should be embraced by the Champions Cup, but not until they prove themselves on the pitch in their new surroundings.
The expansion of what began life as the Celtic League to include the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings has added interest to the new campaign. Anayi believes the experiment will be a success, whether or not the pair are embraced by the European competition.
“It can work but if the South African sides compete well and are in the top six and go on and go and win our championship, they should be playing in the Champions Cup,” he reasoned at the tournament launch at the Aviva Stadium.
“That is a great opportunity for the Champions Cup to develop. At the right time we will go to the EPCR and say ‘well, this makes a lot of sense’.”
Anayi’s words were all but echoed by Cheetahs head coach Rory Duncan.
First things first, and all that, but the prospect of South African sides in a competition that some will still know as the European Cup is just another measure as to how the boundaries are being redrawn across the global rugby landscape.
Whatever the performances on the pitch, the addition of the South African sides is already a hit in the boardroom with their arrival adding what is believed to be in the region of an extra €12m in TV revenue to the championship and a vast new market besides.
That still leaves it in and around the €20m mark in terms of TV income, light years behind the Aviva Premiership with its €40m annual deal and Top 14 where yearly intake will hit €97m when the next contract kicks in in 2019.
The French deal isn’t a viable target but Anayi described English income levels as “a lot more manageable to get to as a target”. Embracing the opportunity to expand the competition even further again would go a way to that.
Countries as diverse as Germany, Spain, and the USA have all been mentioned as possible territories of interest and the last of those is clearly the most attractive commercially while, at the same time, the one with the greatest number of logistical obstacles.
Player welfare, time zones, competitiveness, and formats were just some of the issues Anayi offered yesterday for consideration and any US venture would involve a huge amount of foreign talent.
“It’s definitely a possibility. We’re passed negotiations. It can happen but it has got to happen with USA Rugby’s blessing, World Rugby’s blessing. They’ve got one or two things in the US with their local league that they need to sort out. There is a guy who has a contract for pro rugby in the States. They’re in a dispute with the union. We are owned by unions, as a tournament. We’re pretty different to the English and the French who are privately owned.”
It was also confirmed yesterday that the Aviva Stadium will hold this season’s final.
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