Bruce Craig: “The Heineken Cup is finished. It’s over.”

Bath owner Bruce Craig has unleashed a vicious attack on the Heineken Cup and has warned the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs that they face ‘financial oblivion’ if they do not joint the newly-formed ‘Rugby Champions Cup’, led by the English and French. Craig is deputy chairman of Premiership Rugby, the entity that has been pushing the hardest for a new competition run away from the auspices of the ERC.

While they, along with the LNR, have made it clear that all the PRO12 clubs are welcome to join the competition, none have yet done so. The competition is also yet to be ratified by any of the national unions, the ERC or IRB, muddying the waters as to whether it is even legally allowed to go ahead. Craig is insistent that if it does not, the PRO12 clubs will face an uncertain future given the loss of revenue.

“If the competition is not approved then that would have absolutely catastrophic implications for Celtic rugby,” he told BBC Sport. “Celtic teams would be without significant revenues. The Heineken Cup is finished, it’s over. The Rugby Champions Cup is a way to save European rugby.

“If all 38 [European] clubs were actually given the opportunity to come into the Rugby Champions Cup, I believe all 38 would probably agree. It’s basically the Celtic Unions that would stop them from participating.

“Everyone would prefer that we didn’t go down the legal route. We all want a competition that is a fabulous European competition. The reality though is that if there was to be a blockage there are obvious questions around restraint of trade. This new Champions Cup would generate in the region of 60 to 70 million Euros minimum, which would actually cut out a big percentage of the English and the French clubs’ losses.”

According to reports, English clubs currently receive in the region of £800k for participating in the Heineken Cup. Some Celtic sides collect closer to £3m from ERC. Craig says PRL are showing no signs of bowing to ERC’s wishes for compromise, and are unmoved in their desire to go ahead with the Champions Cup.

“At the moment, for the 2014-15 season there is no European rugby,” Craig said. “This competition is one in which all the clubs are invited to play and there will be an equal distribution of money on a per team basis.

“The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn’t happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won’t have those distributions from that competition. People say the English and French clubs are greedy. The fact is we are losing money.

“In terms of sustainability and the future of the game, this is an opportunity for us to increase revenues into the English and French club game which gives it more viability. The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn’t, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries.”

20 thoughts on “Bruce Craig: “The Heineken Cup is finished. It’s over.”

  1. It’s a farce, the only glimmer of hope is ….

    “This competition is one in which all the clubs are invited to play and there will be an equal distribution of money on a per team basis.”

    If this is the case then it isn’t about screwing other unions/teams over. It does provide the opportunity to generate the maximum revenue from a competition and then divide it equally to all participants, which I agree with.

    1. “clubs are invited to play” really translates to, if a celtic club wins it, they won’t get invited back…

      1. ….. errr not really. Not inviting a winner reduces the credibility and value of the competition and therefore the value of everyone’s share decreases. This seems diametrically opposed to what they are trying to achieve in bringing more revenue into the game.

        The clubs want a competition that generates the maximum revenue for all.

        I couldn’t disagree more with the manner this is all being achieved, with all the dirty laundry out in public. But I go agree with what they are trying to achieve. I just fear than manner in which it has been done will result is going to leave such a bitter taste that the Pro 12 clubs/unions piss their pants to keep themselves warm and not join. The scenario where everyone is a loser (clubs, fans and unions).

        1. Matt said – “I couldn’t disagree more with the manner this is all being achieved, with all the dirty laundry out in public. But I do agree with what they are trying to achieve”.

          Yep, sums it up for me as well. Idiotic people in charge of a decent idea. Even in this very post you have a moron from PRL stirring the pot – telling the Celtic teams that they will go bust (it’s not for him to tell them that) and that it’s their Unions that are the problem (more soundbites slagging people off instead of working to fix it).

          1. This.

            It is a bit unprofessional sounding. But then we should just remember that this is the guy who leads Bath – a team that regularly gets trounced by “Celtic” teams, Irish ones at least. I don’t predict his fortunes would change if Irish teams join this new cup, not remotely.

            To be fair though, he’s not leading or spearheading the drive, he’s more of a proponent.

            He’s right though. Certainly I can’t possible see Leinster or Munster, or even Ulster not joining a new format. They would negotiate to have a fair say in the administration in return for giving it their support, I would think.

            I like this madness. My life’s been dull lately, about time for some drama.

  2. I know it’s all part of a power struggle, but who would I rather watch Glos play in Europe, A N Other French team (say below the top 4) or any of the Irish provinces. The Irish win every time. Also would you rather go on an away trip to Italy, or France for the third time? Surely Italy for the novelty. Yes there will be some good rugby (possibly) but it just doesn’t have the same appeal to me as a punter.

    Anyway I don’t really know why we’re listening to the spin doctors, it’s all handbags.

    1. You’ve got to make it into Europe first Staggy!

      Just kidding, but on a serious note, a lot of the Top 14 I’ve seen so far this season has been pretty dire. We all know an Anglo-French competition will go down like a lead balloon when compared with the brilliance of the Heineken Cup.

  3. I thought you were Brighty for a second! I do accept it isn’t our best start! However corner turned – however the win came!

    So all of us punters want a proper European competition (even if we only make it every other year) rather than an Anglo French tournament where we would be guaranteed a place. When will the club’s listen?

  4. The man’s just telling it like it is. The problem is will the Celtic unions listen or will they continue to believe that they still have power to control things. What the Anglo-French are proposing is effectively the Heineken by another name but with fairer qualification, distribution of funds and voting rights. I think the Celtic Clubs/Regions recognise this. Difficult to see how the unions can continue to oppose it.

    1. This may be the reality, but I don’t think the language helps the situation. When people try to use scare tactics and highlight all the negative consequences for me if I don’t but their product or service I always tell them to #### off. Using those tactics to get me to do something doesn’t work with me. It’s also blindingly obvious that the stated £3M drop in income (before you even look at tickets) is a bad situation, they will be perfectly aware of it.

      Selling the benefits, using positive language and communicating some sort of vision that everyone can buy into is a far better way to go in my opinion, maybe that’s just the management consultant in me. Use negative language, get a negative response and be accused of arrogance, lecturing, moral superiority, strong arm tactics, intimidation, bullying, etc …. all the things that are being levelled at PRL.

      I’m in 100% agreement with an equal share for all ….. I’m in 100% disagreement with the manner in which they are attempting to achieve it.

      1. “I don’t think the language helps the situation. When people try to use scare tactics and highlight all the negative consequences for me if I don’t but their product or service I always tell them to #### off. Using those tactics to get me to do something doesn’t work with me.”

        Right, Matt, get down there and knock their heads together. It’s lazy to keep quoting you but when you’ve said what I’m thinking (and therefore, by logical extension, it is the right thing to say :-) ) then I may as well.

    2. Ray, you said “What the Anglo-French are proposing is effectively the Heineken by another name but with fairer qualification, distribution of funds and voting rights.” Well, I don’t quite see it as that simple for the voting rights so I think that some caution is needed when changing that.

      One of the issues brought out in a lot of this debate is that the “Rabo bloc” have voting control because they all vote as one, etc. I don’t agree with it, I think they do this sometimes, but not all. Do they want to “control” it as a group or is it just that their individual concerns all align? The semantics of which of those is true matters as a lot of motives are getting attributed here and it’s clouding the issue. Anyway, moving on from the current round of name calling, in this case it is true that the Rabo votes are all on the one side with England/Fra on the other. 4 vs 2. It serves the purposes of the Eng/Fra side to call this a “Rabo bloc” so they can paint it as the Rabo controlling things when you could argue that it’s more that if 4 out of 6 think it’s a bad idea then that’s democracy. Disagreeing with the result of the vote seems to descend into name calling.

      Again, moving onto the facts, the suggestion is to move to 1 club, 1 vote. So this would mean, for example, Eng with 6 votes, Wales with 2 and Scotland with none? Or England with 12, Ireland with 4, etc. So now it would be an “English bloc” controlling things? I’m not sure that’s a fairer distribution of votes as it penalises smaller countries for daring to have smaller populations. I should stress “I’m not sure” as I don’t think it is clear cut – I can see both sides of that (why shouldn’t the bigger country have more votes if it has more teams?) but I’d be nervous that the proposal basically means Eng/Fra then have total and utter power of this thing forever. When the next money deal comes up to be negotiated….. out of the frying pan and into the fire?

      1. You are spot on in identifying voting rights as the biggest stumbling block Brighty. The issue is that the unions do not represent the ‘views’ of the leagues in England and France. Voting by number of clubs would probably mean 12 votes for Rabo, 12 for England and 12 for France. This obviously wouldn’t go down well with the Celtic unions but a sensible compromise might be Rabo 12 votes, England 6 votes, France 6 votes maybe with a rotating chairman having the casting vote. That way no one ‘bloc’ has permanent control. To satisfy IRB the votes would probably have to be through the respective unions as now. If either the French or English unions didn’t fairly reflect the views of the clubs, well it ‘s open to the clubs in those countries to do something about it domesticaly without involving the rest of Europe.

        I can’t believe that after all this there is still any real disagreement about qualificaton and revenue sharing – quibbles only I suspect.

  5. Could the new cup be an opportunity to bring in new countries to the competition? Nations like the second-tier of European rugby – Georgia, Russia, Spain etc. have been hard done by having no way to break into higher level rugby. Even if at a world cup one of them ends up trouncing on of the six nations their domestic rugby will still rest sub-par with no access to higher level contests.

    With the game spreading and growing outside traditional rugby states this kind of shakeup should be used as an opportunity to open up to rugby’s growth outside the six nations.

  6. I would like to see a 3rd tier comp, the finalists of which take the last 2 slots of the ‘Amlin’ next year. Even just a small ‘try time’ type broadcast as part of the coverage of the tier 1 & 2 comps would start to raise exposure.

    1. I’m nervous about mixing semi-pro/amateur developers with even lower end Amlin teams. I’ve seen Spain ship 100 points to teams. I’ve seen 3rd string Welsh sides hand out physical and points beatings to Romanian teams. In rugby the physicality is such that it is very, very hard to mix amateur and pro. I think those countries that did want in would need to do what Italy have done – create a single pro (or at least semi-pro) team, shove all of their best players into it and ship in some foreigners to help it develop.

      1. Absolutely, that’s essentially what is being asked for Argentina to put in a team for the Super Rugby as well, and likely what will follow with the USA/Canada/Japan. Europe needs to give these countries the opportunity to challenge for places in a full league system, and so develop them, rather than shut them out and risk being eclipsed by a much larger Southern/Pacific collection of countries.

      2. I know you don’t have to pay too much attention to the Amlin at the moment :-)

        This year’s comp contains:

        Cavalieri Prato
        Lusitanos XV
        Bucure?ti Wolves

        This will produce some cricket scores. But if we want a format of 2 x 20 team comps then we need to get 2 more teams from somewhere and a 3rd tier comp involving teams from Georgia and Russia would seems like a good place to get them from (and will probably increase the interest in the tier 1 & 2 comps in those countries as well)

        Anyway, one problem at a time, no point worrying about how a team from Georgia can qualify if there is no European rugby at all.

  7. I do love the wildly OTT headline in the Telegrapgh:

    “Join us or die!”

    Craig appears to have taken his negotiating style from lord Vader…

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