Heineken Cup: The Need to Compromise – Paul Vaughan

October 3, 2013

Having been involved in The Heineken Cup at its inception it has been interesting to watch the tournament develop and become what it is today.

There has been the odd stumble along the way, but despite the way that the sport works with its wide range of interested parties and stakeholders, it has blossomed into a tournament that takes club rugby in Europe to a higher level.

So, what are the issues being played out in the media?


Qualification is undoubtedly an issue with the argument of the relegation focus in England and France versus the direct entry of teams from The Pro 12 Tournament. In reality the countries that make up the Pro 12 league do not have the depth of resources to run similar sized top flight leagues to that of those in England and France which is why they run a combined League.

If you start with a long term view that the sport itself is best served by the diversity of top level competition and an objective that the sports strength is in the collective, then the sport itself must help itself by giving opportunity to the its smaller markets. This is demonstrated best in the NFL through its player draft system and distribution of revenues and in rugby the entry of Italy to the 6 Nations and Argentina to the Rugby Championship.

The attractiveness and success of the clubs from only 2 countries playing against each other is definitely questionable. It may be exciting in the short term but maybe not the long. We only need to look at examples elsewhere – expansion teams in all American sports, the development of Super Rugby and the need for the Tri Nations adding a 4th country, for example.


The distribution of revenues should not be confused with the source of those revenues. Bigger markets will always deliver more revenues, which is due to the volume of interest and the competition between those willing to pay for television and sponsorship rights. Distribution is about choice; teams that compete in the UEFA Champions League do not share their revenues with other members of their League. The NFL shares everything. There will always be claims for the strongest to take a bigger share as we now hear from the FA Premier League, but at the end of the day but it is the attractiveness of the competition and the size of the potential audience that drive the revenues. There is more value to realize in the competition.



Rugby players are always in a difficult position, as they will want a balance between playing at the highest level, the best earnings possible for a relatively short career and the desire to play for their country if selected.

Likewise, teams in any country will want to retain the best players. Their country will also want to have the strongest possible domestic competition and keep their homegrown players in the country. It comes down to financial resource and quality of competition that enable players to be fairly rewarded. In turn this helps to inspire the next generation and maintain interest in the game. The 6 Nations needs to have 6 strong teams for the long term.

It is not only club rugby that benefits from players playing sides from other countries, International sides whose players gain from the wider experience also benefit


Administrators have the unenviable task of trying to balance the diverse interests of a range of clubs and countries with the aim of delivering the best possible competition for players and fans whilst delivering the largest revenues for distribution possible. Markets change quickly and administrators need to ensure they can take advantage for the benefit of the competition by being proactive. Politics should have no place here.


The owners of rugby clubs across a number of countries have been incredibly supportive of the game by consistently putting money into the game over a number of years with scant financial reward and I think we all hope this will continue. A proportionate voice within the structure of the tournaments that their teams play in is not unreasonable.

Commercial Partners

It is never good to play out a dispute of any sort in public. The old adage of “any publicity is good publicity” only works for those who want to be associated with uncertainty. Organisations that fund any sport need to be respected. Equally, those thinking of coming in will want to know that the future is sound.


Without the fans there is no funding. TV revenue is generated by fans watching and sponsors rely on them connecting with their brand. They are also the group that pays at the turnstiles. This group needs to be entertained on the field and be allowed to enjoy the lifestyle that is rugby. Club supporters welcome the addition of new sides coming to their home grounds and the opportunity to travel to new cities to follow their club.

Without doubt the Heineken Cup could benefit from change. The hope from most people is that compromise, thinking of all interested parties is reached quickly and that those involved think about the long term not just next season. An Anglo-French competition plus invitation sides is not the answer.

Paul Vaughan is the founder of Cardinal Red, a boutique sports marketing consultancy since September 2012.

He was part of the RFU’s successful bid team to host the Rugby World Cup in 2015 before being appointed the CEO of the delivery body, England Rugby 2015 Ltd.

Paul joined the Rugby Football Union in 2001 as Commercial Director becoming Business Operations Director, where his responsibilities encompassed both the generation of revenue for the game in England and for the marketing of the sport. He was intimately involved in the diversification of the Twickenham stadium business model and was MD of both the Hotel and Leisure businesses. The RFU’s revenue grew from £45m in 2001 to £130m in 2011.

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