European club rugby will break new ground following the announcement today that the city of Bilbao will host the 2018 Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and Continental Shield finals, with Newcastle awarded the prestigious weekend festival for 2019.
The two highest-profile matches in the European club calendar will be staged at the San Mamés Stadium next year, the home of football side Athletic Club
With a capacity of 53,289, the recently-redeveloped arena delivered an impressive bid for the 2018 matches which was supported by the Spanish Rugby Federation (Federación Española de Rugby), the Ministry of Sports (CSD), Biscay province, the Basque Government and the City of Bilbao. A high-class venue built following the most advanced environmental guidelines, it has been selected by UEFA as one of the hosts for EURO 2020.
2018 will be the first time that the showpiece games have taken place outside of Europe’s traditional rugby territories after Bilbao’s bid was deemed successful by EPCR’s Executive Committee following a competitive tender process. Newcastle’s outstanding application was also recognised with the 2019 blue riband matches scheduled for St. James’ Park.
The economic impact generated for the city of Lyon from the staging of the 2016 finals weekend was estimated at €;20.4 million, demonstrating the significant legacy to the local economy by Europe’s premium club rugby tournaments.
EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday said: “We are very excited to be taking the best club rugby in the world to fans in what is largely a new market. Bilbao is an excellent destination which breaks new ground for our tournaments and we see this as a big step in the expansion of our sport across the continent.
“Fans have previously flocked to matches in Spain both in the European Cup and for last season’s Top 14 final, and they will be sure of a unique, atmospheric weekend in 2018. Newcastle’s commitment to the bid also made it an easy decision to award them the finals in 2019, building on their significant experience of staging major sporting occasions including Rugby World Cup 2015 matches.”
EPCR Director General Vincent Gaillard commented: “We had exceptional bids for the 2018 finals which is testimony to the transparent and detailed process that we have implemented. Bilbao is a state-of-the-art venue with a commitment to the financial and operational elements of our finals that will allow us to deliver outstanding rugby experiences in a new and exciting setting.
“Newcastle also gives us a top-class venue and a new city in England for the biggest matches in the European club game. To successfully engage with an unprecedented number of bidding cities over the last months shows the attractive proposition that our finals present and we see this a really positive sign for the future of European professional club rugby.”
Alfonso Feijoo, President of the Federación Española de Rugby (FER), added: “This is a great honour for the Spanish Rugby Federation and we are extremely pleased to learn of EPCR’s decision to choose Bilbao and the San Mamés Stadium as the host for the 2018 European club finals. These prestigious tournaments will enable us to boost the development of our sport, not only in the Basque country but across Spain.
“I would like to thank EPCR in particular, who have rewarded the hard work that we have carried out with the support of the Ministry of Sports (Consejo Superior de Deportes), the football league, the Spanish Football Federation, the Basque Federation of Rugby and above all, the three Basque institutions: the city of Bilbao, the province of Biscay and the Basque Government, who have joined forces to make this event happen.
“I would also like to thank the Athletic Club of Bilbao, who have collaborated with us in a decisive way, and the combined efforts of all these parties have enabled us to present a very strong bid that has won the confidence of EPCR. We will keep working hard together in the coming months in order to deliver finals that will be worthy of the extraordinary and historic stadium of San Mamés.”
Mick Hogan, Managing Director of Newcastle Rugby Limited, said: “We are thrilled that Newcastle has been chosen to host the 2019 European finals weekend. The Champions Cup is one of the biggest and most prestigious in world rugby and it is a great honour that the finals will be staged in our fantastic city.
“The successful bid is testament to the incredibly strong partnership that exists between Newcastle City Council, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Newcastle United Football Club and Newcastle Rugby Limited. The partners all worked together so well in the past to successfully stage major sporting events such as Rugby World Cup 2015 matches, Super League Magic weekend and Olympic football.
“We now look forward to 2019 and delivering another world-class event and welcoming visitors from all over the world to Newcastle and the wider north-east region. The city will be a wonderful destination for tens of thousands of rugby supporters who attend the finals weekend and it will provide a major boost to the local economy.
“The event will play a huge part in the continued growth of rugby in the north east of England. We intend to use the lead-up to the finals as a real catalyst to the legacy of the sport in the area.”
Tickets for the Bilbao 2018 finals, which will showcase the very best of European club rugby, will go on sale at a later date with full details available on epcrugby.com where supporters can also reserve their places for this season’s finals weekend in Edinburgh.