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IRFU rejects TV rights proposal
Scrum.com
May 18, 2010
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll off loads the ball under pressure, Leinster v Munster, Magners League semi-final, RDS, Dublin, Ireland, May 15, 2010
The IRFU fear Ireland's top players will move overseas if Minister Ryan's TV rights proposal goes through © PA Photos
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The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has launched a stinging attack on the Irish government's plans to ensure Six Nations and Heineken Cup matches involving the country's teams are reserved for free-to-air television.

The IRFU, with the support of the Six Nations and the ERC, believes that the proposals, which are being championed by Minister Eamon Ryan, are "seriously misguided" and represent the "greatest threat to the sport of rugby in Ireland since it went professional in 1995".

According to the IRFU, the change in policy would result in a loss of 18% (€12 million) of the union's annual income. Such a development would, the IRFU claims, have a number of serious knock-on effects:

- Irish Rugby's best players would move abroad where higher remuneration is already on offer

- A probable reduction in the number of professional Irish rugby teams

- The inability of Irish national and provincial teams' to compete at the highest levels in World Cup, 6 Nations, Heineken Cup, Amlin Challenge Cup and Magner's League competitions.

- Severe reductions in the €10 million annual budget for clubs and schools across the island.

- The rapid decline of Irish Rugby into a second tier country and the end of the game's mass appeal in this country.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne also claimed that the drop in revenue from the sale of TV rights to pay-per-view television could hinder the union's attempts to repay its share of the new Aviva Stadium. Browne added that the IRFU is simply not in a position to cope with the likely loss in income.

"We have been developing our commercial platform for over 10 years now and have no idea how the Minister thinks that greater viewership, which is a questionable proposition in itself, will yield €12 million to us," he said.

"The irony is that Minister Ryan's proposal would destroy both the sport and the very cultural events the Minister believes he would be protecting. If we do not have the money to invest in our sport and especially to be successful at professional level - well then everything else unravels as popularity declines.

"We can see how the loss of success leads to a loss of popularity in other Unions where they have struggled for years on and off the pitch to find the right model in what is still a new and developing sporting business.

"Rugby is highly accessible and growing under our stewardship and in partnership with the Six Nations, European Rugby Cup, Magners League and the International Rugby Board. Together we are confident we will continue to grow the sport as evidenced by the last 10 years but with a balanced approach that ensures Irish rugby maximises its value for the benefit of supporters across the island - North and South. That means a mix of free-to-air and pay-per-view platforms."

Six Nations Chief Executive John Feehan admitted that his organisation has been left baffled by the timing of Minister Ryan's proposal.

"We cannot understand why the Minister is bringing this up now," he said. "This is a three-year review process and the Six Nations Championship is already guaranteed to be shown on RTE for the next three years. In any event, the Championship is B listed, which means it would be shown on terrestrial TV on a deferred basis. Moving the Championship to an A list would have a detrimental effect on the sharing agreement between the 6 Unions and gravely affect the unity of the Six Nations.

"The other Unions cannot understand why Ireland is biting the hand that feeds it when Irish Rugby already receives more than four times what Ireland brings to the central pot. This would have a devastating effect if it went ahead."

Meanwhile, ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath supported the IRFU's claims that taking Heineken Cup games involving Irish sides away from pay-per-view channels would result in a potentially devastaing reduction in income for the union.

"There is no justification for the Minister's intervention in the way that ERC sells the broadcasting rights to the Heineken Cup. This unwarranted proposal to restrict our commercial activity would drastically reduce the funds that we disperse to Irish Rugby," he said.

"In the end, this issue comes down to a matter of trust and the Irish Rugby public have a choice. Do they put their faith in tournament organisers such as ERC, who have developed the Heineken Cup into a hugely vibrant and successful competition, or do they put their faith in a Minister who is on course to cause irreparable damage to the game in this country?"

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