Desperate Rugby is delighted to welcome Mark McCafferty, chief executive of English Premiership Rugby, to these pages to answer your email questions*
Desperate Rugby: Mark, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions
Mark McCafferty: Hey, my pleasure, let’s get this show on the road.
Why did PRL decide to opt out of the Heineken Cup? Andy, Hawick
MM: Andy, hi, thanks for your question. Why did PRL decide to opt out of the Heineken Cup? Well let’s look at the vista, or landscape if you prefer, which faced us when we sat down to talk about the future of European club rugby last summer. We had a tournament which had caught the imagination of just about every rugby fan in Europe since its creation. It had acted as a gateway to the game for millions of sport-loving television viewers around Europe who were switched on to rugby for the first time. Attendances at grounds had grown exponentially. Millions of euros were flowing back into the participating countries at an ever increasing rate. It was widely regarded as the single most successful initiative of the professional rugby era.
So things had to change. And change radically. We just couldn’t go on like that.
Was it a difficult decision to pull out of the Heineken Cup? Tommo, Aberdeen
It was Tommo. It really was. But there was a single defining moment when I realised that we had to change things for the good of the game. And that single defining moment was the moment when I realised BT Sport really were offering us a shitload of money. And when I say shitload, I mean shitload. Just a huge shitload of money. That was a very special moment for me and I’ll never forget it.
What exactly are BTSport offering to participants in a new European Cup? Jan, Glasgow
The BT deal is what we who are in the business of professional sport administration call “dead good”. It will allow everyone to be all they can be. It will change lives. It will alter the way we think about humanity. More than one person who has been involved in setting up the deal has told me that it has restored their faith in humanity. And not in a wishy-washy, touchy-feely, mumbo-jumbo way. In a deep, true and lasting way. I know this for a fact Jan. One club chief executive, to give you one example off the top of my head, has started helping out at a soup kitchen. And that’s all down the magic of the BT Sport deal.
But, financially, what will the deal be for Scottish outfits like Glasgow? Jan, Glasgow
That’s a secret. But not in a sinister, ‘we’ll-only-tell-you-what-you’re-getting-once-we’ve-got-you-by-the-knackers’ way. It’s more like the way the best Christmas present is a secret. Imagine a sweet, innocent little child tucked up in bed on Christmas Eve, full of hope and and wonder and expectation at the thought of all the fabulous goodies Father Christmas is going to bring. And on Christmas morning, hey presto! Santa’s been and it’s such a great feeling.
That’s how we feel about our new European rugby product. Our new tournament is like Christmas itself; teams like Glasgow are the giddy little children and PRL is Santa Claus doling out all kinds of goodies with a smile on our face and a song in our heart. If I’m honest, one of the most dispiriting aspects of this whole controversy has been finding out how many people in the upper echelons of European rugby no longer believe in Santa Claus. But we can bring the magic back, Jan, we can bring the magic back. So why don’t you just piss off and leave the worrying about where the money’s coming from to us grown ups, eh?
If PRL and the French clubs can’t convince the Celts and Italians to join their new venture, will you look at other options for participation? Bill, Livingston
Well we really hope that won’t be the case. Truly we do. But if it is the case we have plans in place. Amazing, exciting plans which will change the way everyone thinks about rugby. Clubs all round the world have shown an interest. We’ve been speaking to representatives of the NFL in America and they’ve been really excited about what we have to say. It’s not beyond the realms of our thinking that there could be a special edition of the X Factor which is based solely around the quarter final stages of our European rugby tournament. Just imagine how awesome it would be to see Gary Barlow, Sharon Osbourne and the other judges I don’t know acting as guest TMOs for those special games. It’d knock peoples’ socks off.
Do you honestly see any way out of this mess in time for next season’s Heineken Cup? Simon, Edinburgh
Well, Simon, I have to tell you that there won’t be a Heineken Cup next season. Let me put it to you this way. When someone dies and goes to heaven, we mere mortals can’t imagine just how wonderful it is for them up there. Because we’ve never been to heaven and we won’t know what it’s like until we get there. And that’s how it is for a lot of people in this current situation. We have to wait for the Heineken Cup to die before we can have our own little slice of heaven in the future.
DR: Mark, that’s all we’ve got time for, thanks for answering our questions.
MM: My pleasure
* Quite obviously this isn’t the real Mark McCafferty – please don’t go telling anyone that it is.