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Ryan Proposal Threatens 375 Million Euro Industry
5 May 2010, 12:31 pm
By The Editor
The IRFU together, with the Six Nations and ERC, have described Minister Eamon Ryan's proposal to ensure that Six Nations and Heineken Cup matches can only be watched on free-to-air television in the future as seriously misguided and the greatest threat to the sport of rugby in Ireland since it went professional in 1995.
If implemented, the proposal would result in the IRFU losing 18% (€12 million) of its annual income by breaking and destabilising the international partnerships that underpin both the Six Nations and Heineken Cup competition. The IRFU say that, with all their revenues being required to support domestic rugby as well as the national and provincial sides, such a loss would unravel everything that has been built up and created over the last 10 years.

The specific consequences of Minister Ryan's proposal would be:

• 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 Finances.
he IRFU does not have the cash reserves to replace such a fall in income. The IRFU is a non-profit organisation, all of its annual income is ploughed back into the sport each year to support:
• the professional teams (€36m)
• domestic/club rugby (€10m)
• Administration, overheads and marketing (€6m)
• Depreciation and interest (€5m)
• The IRFU is also at the beginning of a long term commitment to repay its share of the new Aviva Stadium.

€375 Million Rugby Economy.
The IRFU also stressed the knock-on effect the proposal would have on the national and regional economies through the winding down of the €375 million 'rugby economy' in Ireland which helps to support the hospitality, travel and retail sectors around Ireland.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Six Nations and ERC to highlight their concerns, the Chief Executive of the IRFU, Philip Browne 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."

He added: "Rugby is highly accessible and growing under our stewardship and in partnership with the Six Nations, European Rugby Cup, Magner's 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."

Mr Browne said it would not be possible for the IRFU to replace the monies lost especially in the difficult economic times and with a falling population base. He called on the Minister to explain how he believed the IRFU could replace the €12 million in lost income without damaging the sport. "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."

North-South Issues.
Mr Browne concluded by expressing grave concern over the impact that such a political decision in the South might have serious ramifications on the all-island nature of Irish rugby and on the competitiveness of the Ulster team in particular. "Irish rugby has been a uniting bond for people across the island for well over 100 years through all the most difficult times in modern history and the 'troubles' in particular. We are deeply uncomfortable with the potential effect a unilateral political move such as this might have on our sporting federation."

International Relations.
The IRFU, Six Nations and European Rugby Cup are clear that the implementation of Minister Ryan's proposal would damage and destabilise the international partnerships that the Six Nations and Heineken Cup are based on and would also damage Ireland's reputation as an international sporting centre both in on-field and administrative terms.

Six Nations Chief Executive John Feehan said: We cannot understand why the Minister is bringing this up now. 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."

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

"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?"

Minister's Prpposal Seemingly At Odds With Govt. Policy.
The IRFU believes Minister Ryan's proposal is at odds with government policy towards the growth of sporting involvement and the role that professional sport has in driving participation amongst people of all ages.

The investments in the Aviva Stadium, Thomond Park and special tax designation initiative for professional sportspeople would all be greatly undermined by Minister Ryan's proposal.

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