Following on from their highly successful involvement with the ERC run competition in the past three seasons, the company have agreed to remain as the title sponsors. Once again the tournament, which features teams from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, will split into two sections, providing teams with the chance to chase two titles - the Parker Pen Challenge Cup the Parker Pen Shield.
Last season's decision to switch the tournament to a knock-out format enabled us to provide two champions. London Wasps earned their ticket back into the Heineken Cup by winning the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP, while Castres Olympique took the PARKER PEN SHIELD title back to France with them, said ERC chief executive Derek McGrath.
We are following the same format this season and are delighted that Parker have decided to extend their involvement for a fourth season. They first came on board with this tournament when it was called the PARKER PEN SHIELD in the 2000/2001 season and have been the title sponsors for the past two seasons.
In partnership with ERC they have helped us to broaden the appeal of the tournament and have played a major role in developing the finals into major occasions in the European rugby calendar.
Once again this season the winners of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP will receive automatic entry into the Heineken Cup tournament in 2004/2005, when it celebrates its 10 anniversary, while the winners of the PARKER PEN SHIELD will be one of the seeded teams in the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP the following season.
Further good news for the tournament is that ERC's new broadcast partners in the UK, Sky Sports, have agreed to cover the semi-finals and final of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP Cup to provide even greater exposure for the competition.
The format for this season's PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP tournament has been slightly adapted following the change in Wales from nine professional clubs to five regional sides and there will be 28 teams involved in 14 first round matches. The winners of those matches, along with two Lucky Losers', will move forward into the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP, while the remaining 12 losers will be joined by four teams from Spain and Portugal to form the PARKER PEN SHIELD competition.
We are delighted to be extending our association with the ERC and their tournaments for a further year and look forward to another season of high rugby drama in both competitions, said Parker managing director Jim Haggarty.
Last season's format worked very well for the clubs and it certainly heightened the interest for both the fans and the media. We look forward to working with ERC and all the clubs to continue the success story this season.