Closing date for submissions
:: ::

The Facts

1 IRFU's Relationship with ERC/Six Nations

1.1. The IRFU is but one partner sitting at the tables of Six Nations and The ERC, each of which is an independent body in its own right. The sum of the partners' combined assets makes for an incredibly powerful and successful combination. In turn, it makes for a very delicate relationship balance and one which has been threatened on different occasions as outlined by the Six Nations and The ERC in their section of this submission.

1.2. The IRFU has, and continues to receive, very strong financial returns because of the arrangements put in place, centrally, by the Six Nations Council and European Rugby Cup Ltd for the exploitation of broadcasting rights to those events and the equitable distribution of the resulting revenues. Ireland is a small TV market compared to the UK and France. Fortunately for Ireland, however, the broadcasting revenues from Six Nations and ERC are split according to contribution on the pitch, not according to the size of each stakeholder's domestic TV market. Thus, although the Irish TV market contributes only €5 million pa to the central pot (c.€3m to the Six Nations pot and c.€2 million to the ERC pot), the other TV markets contribute much more, and the IRFU therefore receives €16 million each year from the central pot (c.€11m from Six Nations and c.€5m from ERC). This constitutes about 24% of the IRFU's total annual turnover.

1.3. This income is absolutely central to the IRFU's business model. It goes straight to the bottom line and provides the surplus that finances not only the national team and the provinces but also club rugby, schools rugby, and community projects, spreading the game to men and women, boys and girls, across the whole of Ireland, with all the health and social benefits that brings.

2 The Irish Rugby Football Union

2.1. The IRFU is in existence since 1874 and is an all-Ireland Governing Body, combining the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It has responsibility for rugby at all levels across the island of Ireland, from the national team and the provinces down to clubs, schools and grass roots. Under its stewardship, Irish rugby is currently enjoying major success, with Leinster and Munster winning the Heineken Cup three times between them in the last five years, and the Irish team winning the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 for the first time in 61 years. In addition, the future looks bright for rugby: by contracting its players directly, it has avoided the club v country disputes that have bedevilled other unions; as a result of sustained grass roots investment it has dramatically increased the numbers of junior players participating in the sport, club numbers are increasing, with the game in Ireland currently growing at a rate of 10% pa. and of course with the generous support of the State, rugby is about to move into the new Aviva Stadium, which is a beacon of optimism for the entire country.

2.2. As stated the IRFU is an all Island body and represents one of the sports that unite the whole of Ireland. In the 136 years of its existence the IRFU takes great pride in the unwavering bonds that rugby has fostered between our traditions North and South, highlighted through the dark days of the Troubles by unbroken inter-club and representative matches which saw teams and supporters cross the border week in week out to play and mix in the name of Sport. Such camaraderie flourishes to this day.

3 Growth of The Game and Commitment at Grass Roots level

3.1. There are currently 153,080 registered active players in the country, this reflects ongoing compound growth of 10% per annum and the IRFU's 4 year Strategic Plan (2008/2012) is predicting that these growth levels will continue for the next 2 years at least. Thus from a situation in 2005 where there were some 98,000 registered players we currently have in excess of 150,000 registered players, proof indeed that the current model is working exceptionally well in popularising the game. Of particular satisfaction is the ongoing growth of the clubs' mini rugby structure which is focused on attracting young children, boys and girls, into the game.

3.2. The accompanying chart gives a breakdown, by region and grade, of those playing the game.

Ulster Munster Leinster Connacht Total 2010
Senior Males 7,056 5,923 10,154 2,307 25,440
Senior Women 744 751 1,140 129 2,764
Age Grade (Club) 4,231 9,125 11,778 4,969 30,103
Mini Rugby 4,767 6,938 10,995 1,902 24,602
Total Club Numbers 16,798 22,737 34,067 9,307 82,909

School Rugby Programmes

Age Grade (Secondary schools) 11,750 4,910 11,516 2,288 30,464
School Development Programme 9,945 8,795 16,184 4,783 39,707
Total Participants (School & Club) 38,493 36,442 61,767 16,378 15,080

3.3. In 2008, the Irish Women's Rugby Football Union integrated into the IRFU and the growth of the women's game (2,491 players) creates a number of opportunities for the Union through opening up a new population of participants, increased volunteerism and the general vibrancy of our clubs.

3.4. Commitment to the promotion of the sport at grass roots level throughout the regions has never been greater: Some sample projects include:

  • Gaelteacht Initiative: During 2010, the IRFU will be expanding its Gaeltacht initiative by operating projects on the Dingle Peninsular (Corca Dhuibhne RFC), Connemara (Ghaeltacht RFC), Achill Island and the Donegal Community Rugby Project.
  • Dublin Region: The promotion of rugby and physical well being continues in Tallaght, Ballymun, Fingal, Swords and Dublin City Centre through the co-operation and partnership which exists between the IRFU Leinster Branch, the Dublin City Council and the Fingal County Council. During the 2009/10 season the focus of these programmes changed from increasing participation, to linking the programmes to established clubs in the area through the deployment of Community Rugby Officers.
  • Limerick: The IRFU Munster Branch has brought the game to non traditional rugby playing areas in Limerick. Working in cooperation with the Limerick Regeneration Project, Community Rugby Officers undertook a number of outreach programmes using rugby as a medium. Like other initiatives, the goal was to establish participation in the game while giving community focus and linking to Limerick Rugby Clubs.

3.5. Economic Surveys conducted by independent sources on behalf of the IRFU and the Provinces have indicated that rugby, through International matches (5/6 per annum), Heineken Cup matches (6 home Pool matches per annum), Magners League matches (20 Home matches per annum) and Amlin Cup (3 /4 home matches per annum) contribute some €375 M to the tourism economy, with some 50% of that income coming from overseas visitors.

4. The Professional Game

4.1. The Professional Game, made up of the Provincial teams and the International team, is the financial engine which drives the entire rugby structure in Ireland. Its ability to generate funds is based on the various teams' abilities to compete and succeed.

  • The decision taken by the IRFU in 1999, following a disastrous World Cup campaign, to invest heavily in keeping Ireland's best players at home rather than let them be lured to England, and to a lesser extent France, was the turning point for Irish Rugby. It meant that from here on in Irish players trained here, had their playing schedules managed here, played here and lived here. This system is the envy of the rugby world and on it is the success of Irish rugby based. It is unthinkable that it could be put at risk.

4.2. The IRFU acknowledges the tax allowances made available by the State to Irish Professional Sports people domiciled in this country, whereby an athlete can reclaim 40% of the tax paid on his/her sporting income at the end of a 10 year period. This initiative has had a positive impact in assisting the IRFU retain players in this country.

4.3. Irish professional rugby players are extraordinarily committed to their teams and are passionate about delivering success and pride for the Irish people. They are constant targets for major English and French Clubs who come with significant cheque books. Professional rugby careers are short and Irish rugby cannot and should not have to rely on the goodwill of players in order to keep them here. We must be able to compete in offering the facilities and remuneration levels which top class international rugby players command in the modern sporting environment.

4.4. This commitment has delivered unprecedented success for Irish Rugby in recent years:

Grand Slam 2009
Triple Crown 2009, 07, 06, 04;
Heineken Cup Leinster - 2009; Munster 2008, 06; Ulster 1999;
Magners League Munster 2009, 2003; Leinster 2008, 2002; Ulster 2006

5 IRFU Finances

5.1. The IRFU is a not-for-profit organisation, whose finances are published annually. All of its income is ploughed back into the running and development of the game, both professional and amateur.

5.2. Income and Expenditure for Year ended April 30th 2009

Ticketing €23 million
TV Rights (Includes all International matches) €13 million
Sponsorship €8 million
ERC/Magners League (Includes TV Revenues) €6 million
Government Grant €4 million
Other €3 million
Total Income €57 million

Professional game €32 million
Domestic game €11 million
Admin/overheads €6 million
Elite Player Development €3 million
Depreciation €1 million
Marketing €1 million
Grounds €1 million
Total Expenditure €55 million

5.3. Existing Television Rights Revenue

Existing Television Rights Revenue
ERC Six Nations
€M €M
Total Annual Television Rights 30 74
Value of Irish TV Rights 2 3
IRFU's Annual Television Rights Return from Tournaments 5 11
IRFU's Net Positive Position 3 8

6 IRFU Position on 'Free to Air' (FTA) Proposal

6.1. The IRFU has truly genuine concerns that the current 'Free to Air' (FTA) proposal will have a devastating impact on its sport for generations to come, with the loss of €10 Million to €12 Million per annum. Realistically there is no way of replacing this income loss; it is not a tenable proposition to state it can be made up by increased sponsorship funding.

6.2. The IRFU is very much in favour of 'free to air' broadcasting of its games, where feasible. It has excellent relations with RTE and a strong partnership with the broadcaster, not just in its coverage of major matches, but through its ongoing coverage of club rugby on its magazine programme 'Against the Head'. Ireland's Six Nations matches are all available live on RTE; while the provinces' Heineken Cup matches are all available 'as live' and/or in highlights form on RTE, and their Magners League matches will be available from next season live on RTE, TG4 and/or BBC NI.

6.3. What the IRFU seeks is a balanced approach which will allow it, through its partnership in Six Nations and ERC, to maximise its TV revenues, currently accounting for some 24% of its total income.

6.4. The IRFU's strong contention is that the growth and popularity of rugby, particularly over the past 5 years, is firmly based on the success of our representative teams on the field and the momentum this success creates.

6.5. In the present environment and for the foreseeable future, no Irish FTA broadcaster other than RTE has any meaningful budget to acquire sports rights. Therefore, if pay-TV operators are excluded from bidding for the Irish broadcasting rights to Ireland's Six Nations matches and the Irish provinces' Heineken Cup matches, RTE would face no competition. As the broadcasting revenues from other markets continue to increase because of the competition in those market, the revenues from the Irish market will decrease from the current €5m pa to an even smaller (and ever-decreasing) percentage of the central pot.

6.6. Worse still, listing the matches in Ireland would reduce considerably their value to Sky and ESPN (each of which has a UK and Ireland footprint), so that they will bid less, or not at all, for the UK rights to Six Nations and Heineken Cup. Without effective competition from pay-TV operators, an independent expert has estimated that UK rights values for those events would drop by 30-50%, shrinking the size of the central pot considerably for both competitions.

6.7. In such circumstances, with the IRFU's contribution encumbered and undermining values in the UK as well, there is little doubt that the current solidarity arrangements would come under severe strain, with other stakeholders arguing that instead each Union should keep whatever the events generate in its local market. This is not scaremongering: the Six Nations collective broke down over money in 1996 and again in 2001; and the ERC collective broke down in 1999 and came close to doing so again in 2007. And the consequences would be stark: as noted above, the difference between what the Irish market generates and what the IRFU receives from the central pot is currently €11 million pa, and in the future, with the matches listed in Ireland, that gap will only get wider.

7 The Effects of Losing 20% of Income

7.1. A loss of some €10/12 Million would represent in the order of 20% of the IRFU's annual income stream.

7.2. A loss of income of that magnitude would force a combination of the following on Irish Rugby:

  • Irish Rugby's best players would be tempted to move abroad as:
    (a)Higher remuneration would be on offer overseas
    (b)Home based teams would be less well resourced
    (c)The prospect of success would be seriously diminished
  • A probable need for a reduction in the number of professional Irish rugby teams
  • Inability of the Irish National side and the provincial teams to compete at the highest levels in World Cup, Six Nations, Heineken Cup, Amlin Cup and Magner's League competitions.
  • Severe reductions in the annual budget for clubs and schools across the Island of Ireland.
  • The rapid decline of Irish rugby into a second tier country.
  • The end of the game's mass appeal.
  • Serious threat to the €375 million rugby economy contribution to the tourism, travel, retail and jobs sectors around Ireland as a direct result of International and Provincial teams' matches.

June, 2010.

Six Nations


1. Six Nations is an independent company, based in Dublin.The six rugby unions of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy have a long and proud record of promoting and growing the sport in their respective territories in the best long-term interests of the sport and the public. The Six Nations Championship, the pinnacle event of Northern Hemisphere rugby, is the Unions' main development tool. They use it to drive playing standards across their respective nations, to generate interest in their domestic games below national level, to provide a showcase for the sport to attract future players and supporters, and to generate substantial commercial revenues that they then plough back into sustaining and growing their sports at the professional club level, at the amateur club level, in women's and disability sport, and at a grass roots level. This grass roots investment broadens the playing base and so leads to the development of further talented players who can contribute to the vibrancy and success of the national team, so completing a 'virtuous circle' that safeguards the long-term future of the sport in each of the six Unions.

2. The broadcasting rights to the Championship are pooled and exploited centrally, with the resulting revenues shared 75% equally, 15% based on finishing position in the Championship, and 10% on relative size. While this formula does not reflect the contributions made to the central media pot by the unions' respective domestic TV markets (for example, RTE pays only c.€3 million pa in Ireland, yet the IRFU receives c.€11 million from the central media pot), this distribution helps maintain solidarity, unity and cohesion, and ensures the retention of broad competitive balance across all six nations, without which the strength of the competition would collapse.

3. The Six Nations Council wants to showcase the sport to the widest possible audience. That is why it has always granted the broadcasting rights to the event to FTA broadcasters in Britain and Ireland (including granting the Irish broadcasting rights to RTE). However, it needs those broadcasters to pay market rates for those rights, to generate the level of revenues sufficient to support the level of investment required in each union. If the current listing regime is changed, so that RTE becomes effectively the sole bidder for the Irish broadcasting rights to the Championship, then the consequences could be dire.

4. RTE would be free to drop its bid for the Irish rights even from the €3 million pa it pays now. Its contribution to the central media pot (currently 4% of the total of €74 million pa) will therefore decrease.

5. More importantly, however, there is also a significant risk that such listing would also disincentivise Sky and other pay-TV broadcasters with UK and Ireland footprints bidding for the UK broadcasting rights to the Championship. And without pay-TV competition for the BBC in the UK market, our view (endorsed by an independent sports rights expert) is that the loss in value is likely to be at least 35-50% of the current UK rights value, or 22-31% of the total central media pot.

6. If that happens, the current collective approach would come under severe pressure, with the real prospect that the bigger unions insist on reverting (as happened with the RFU in 1996) to Unions' unilateral selling of the broadcasting rights to their own home matches. Indeed, the French Union has already stated in correspondence that they will review their commitment to the current collective approach if the broadcasting rights to the Championship in the other domestic markets are impaired by regulatory intervention (i.e., listing). If the collective approach falls apart, the broadcasting revenue that the IRFU receives from the Six Nations Championship is likely to drop from the current €11 million pa to less than €3 million pa.

7. Listing amounts to an expropriation of the Six Nations' constitutionally-protected property rights, as well as an interference with the freedom to provide services that is guaranteed to them under EC law. It is therefore only legal if it is demonstrated to be both necessary and proportionate. How is the current proposal necessary or proportionate?

8. When it first considered the issue in 2003, and when it reviewed the position in 2006, the Government concluded that the public interest was protected by listing Ireland's Six Nations matches for deferred FTA coverage only. That is consistent with the decision of the UK Government, which has consistently decided (including most recently earlier this year) that there is no public interest justification in the UK (including Northern Ireland) for mandating live FTA coverage of Six Nations matches. We have not seen anything to explain why a different view should be taken now.

9. Against that, you have to weigh the damage that listing would do. As noted above, it would dramatically impair the Six Nations rights values. At best, that would decrease the size of the central pot, and so of distributions to unions from that central pot. At worst, it could prompt the abandonment of the current collective approach, in which case countries like Ireland would be the clear losers, given the level of subsidy they receive under the current arrangements. Instead of the c.€11 million it currently receives each year from the Six Nations, the IRFU would instead be lucky to receive €3 million pa. Its investment in Irish rugby would therefore be reduced, and the competitiveness of the Irish team would be undermined, which would not be in the interests of the Championship and certainly would not be in the Irish public interest.

10. We do not believe that there are any countervailing benefits of listing that would mitigate the loss of broadcasting income to any material extent. For example, there would be no upside for the Six Nations from sponsorship because it already offers sponsors FTA platforms throughout Britain and Ireland. Similarly, even if one assumed that wider television exposure might stimulate greater interest in the sport, the national team has to be a success to sustain that interest, and there have to be facilities in place to turn that interest into actual participation. For both those things, you need investment, i.e., exactly what listing would stop the IRFU doing.

11. The need for a fair balance between (on the one hand) the public interest in FTA access to Ireland's Six Nations matches and (on the other hand) the public interest in a properly-financed sport that is able to invest sufficiently in development to ensure the continued long-term success of the sport at both elite and grass roots level, compels maintaining the status quo of listing Irish games in the Six Nations for deferred FTA coverage only.

Six Nations Rugby
June, 2010



1. After the Six Nations, the Heineken Cup is the pinnacle cross-border event in Northern Hemisphere rugby, driving sporting excellence as well as generating substantial commercial revenues for its stakeholders.

2. ERC Ltd was founded in 1995, when rugby union turned professional, to organise the first cross-border competitions for the professional teams in each of the five (now six) participating unions. Those competitions -- The Heineken Cup and The Amlin Challenge Cup -- have been a great success on the field, driving up playing standards across the participating nations. They have also been a success off the field, generating significant commercial revenues for distribution to the six participating countries to fuel the success of their elite professional teams.

3. ERC is based in Dublin but it is not an IRFU body. Instead it is an independent company whose stakeholders are all six participating unions and their respective elite professional teams. Those stakeholders have collectively agreed that all of the commercial rights to The Heineken Cup are to be controlled centrally by ERC. They have also agreed that, in order to ensure competitive balance across the participating nations, the resulting revenues are to be distributed not according to the contribution to the central pot from each domestic TV market but rather 85% pro rata according to number of participants and 15% according to success in the tournament.

4. So, for example, while the Irish broadcasting market is much smaller and less valuable than its UK and French counterparts, contributing only approximately €2 million pa (or c.9% of total annual broadcasting revenues) to the central pot, nevertheless the IRFU receives annual distributions from the central pot of approx. €5 million, which it has used to keep the best Irish players playing for their provinces and which has therefore contributed enormously to those provinces consistently 'punching above their weight' in the tournament (the provinces are only 4 teams among a total of 44 competing in ERC competitions each season, but they have won The Heineken Cup four times in 15 years, including three times in the last 5).

5. Listing the Irish provinces' Heineken Cup matches would impair ERC's commercial revenues and so threaten the collective approach.

6. The fact that international matches occupy many of the prime weekends in the rugby union calendar means that clubs (especially the privately-owned English and French clubs) are very concerned to maximise revenues from every single remaining slot in the schedule. This has led to periodic conflicts, where the disparity between what certain countries receive from the central pot and what their local markets contribute to that pot is identified as a central grievance. It was as a result of one such conflict that the English clubs boycotted ERC competitions entirely in 1999. Peace was eventually brokered in an agreement known as the Paris Accord, but when that agreement ended in 2007, a further boycott was threatened by the French and English clubs, and the collective was maintained only after great efforts from all concerned.

7. ERC's current finances are underwritten by its broadcasting agreement with Sky, which runs until 2014 and pays a substantial rights fee -- more than 41% of ERC's total annual broadcasting income - in return for the live broadcasting rights to the Heineken Cup in the UK and Ireland. If ERC cannot grant those rights exclusively to Sky in the future, however, but instead has to sell the Irish rights to the key matches to a FTA broadcaster, then it is clear that Sky will bid far less for the rights (assuming it does not walk away altogether). In such circumstances, the likelihood is that the current solidarity mechanisms would be abandoned and instead each union would simply retain the revenues generated by its own domestic television market. In that event, instead of the approx. €5 million that it currently receives each year from ERC, the IRFU would receive a far smaller sum, in effect whatever RTE (being unconstrained by competition) deigned to pay for the rights. And there is no way that that gap would be made up by additional sponsorship income: even ignoring the current adverse economic conditions, sponsors simply do not attach any more than a marginal premium to a FTA platform.

8. There is no justification for such interference.

9. In 2003, when the concept of listed events was first introduced in Ireland, the Government decided (properly) that Heineken Cup matches could not be said to be events of such major importance to society that FTA coverage had to be imposed. And it came to the same view when it reviewed the list in 2006, declining to designate the matches even for deferred FTA coverage, let alone live FTA coverage.

10. Similarly the UK Government has never taken the view that Heineken Cup matches are of sufficient importance to warrant listing for FTA coverage (live or deferred) in any part of the UK, including Northern Ireland. That includes its most recent review, undertaken in 2009/2010.

11. The broadcasting rights to The Heineken Cup are owned by ERC and its stakeholders. Listing would clearly be an interference with their private property rights, as well as with freedom guaranteed to them under European law to market those rights freely throughout the EU. Therefore, under both Irish constitutional law and European law, the burden is on the Government to explain and justify why it takes a different view from its predecessors.

12. It is the governing bodies of a sport who are best placed to determine how to balance the need to expose the sport to the widest possible audience with the need to generate the highest possible commercial revenues for investment in the sport. And they have a track record that shows they can be trusted to protect both imperatives. For example, while ERC has granted the live rights to the Heineken Cup to Sky, it has kept back and granted to RTE the right to show the Irish provinces' matches in full just two hours after final whistle, as well as the right to show highlights of all matches thereafter. (Interestingly, RTE has chosen not to exercise the right to show the provinces' matches 'as live'.

European Rugby Cup Ltd
June, 2010

Follow Irish Rugby on Twitter


Twitter Updates

    © 2018 Content © Irish Rugby Football Union , Images © Inpho Photography Privacy & Cookies delivered by Sotic powered by OpenText WSM