Aviva Premiership to stay with BT Sport for another six years

By Chris JonesBBC Radio 5 live
Northampton Aviva Premiership champions 2014
Northampton celebrate being crowned Aviva Premiership champions of 2014

The English Premiership clubs' new television deal will almost "close the gap entirely" with the French Top 14, according to Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty.

Premiership Rugby Ltd and BT Sport have announced a new six-year contract for exclusive live rights, understood to be worth around 80% more than the current agreement.

McCafferty says the Premiership will be able to compete on a level footing with the French league. "It's great [for] keeping the best talent in England."

He told BBC Radio 5 live that this would "help the national team" and added: "It pretty much closes the gap entirely when you look at the underlying numbers of what the Top 14 clubs get.

"By the time we get to 2017 we should be pretty close, if not right on a par with them.

"[The new deal] is a significant increase. We are not at liberty to say what the exact amount of that is, but I think people have a reasonable idea that it's a very good uplift."

The previous deal was worth £152 million, however that also contained rights to show English clubs' games in Europe - which has since been passed on to the new European tournament organisers EPCR.

The new deal will take in the 2020-21 campaign and the number of live games are poised to rise from 69 to 80 per season from 2017-18 under the agreement.

The commercial growth of the English and French leagues has threatened to leave the Pro 12 behind, but McCafferty believes the presence of three strong leagues is vital for the overall health of European rugby.

"As I understand it, the Pro 12 is starting to invest further in the development of the resources to promote that competition, and that's welcome because it's very important that Europe has three strong leagues.

"We've done more than our bit in terms of making sure the commercial values of the new European competitions reach new highs. That all helps the Pro 12 teams."

McCafferty has revealed that further discussions are set to take place over the Premiership salary cap, which has already been raised to £5.5m from the 2015-2016 season.

"We are starting discussions over the next few months on the salary cap for 2016-2017 [season] onwards, so doing a deal like today gives us the certainty of what our key revenue streams will be six years out," he added.

"Generally the salary cap is linked to the growth of our central revenues, so that should provide us some flexibility - if that's what the clubs want - to increase the salary cap.

"As the sport grows the ability to spend on playing talent to make the clubs stronger grows as well.

"Seventy percent of our players are English-qualified, and that's the level we would like to keep it at."

McCafferty has also confirmed plans are well underway to expand the Premiership, in the process temporarily scrapping promotion and relegation.

"Teams need a certain amount of time to prepare for life in the Premiership," he said.

"We'll discuss that with the RFU, and if that means the Premiership expands by a club or two over the next few years, then so be it if that's in the interests of rugby."

However, McCafferty says Championship clubs can still aspire for Premiership status, in the same way Exeter have successfully bridged the gap between the two leagues.

"It must be possible for us to look at more creative ways to allow the possibility for the Exeters to come through, but not to throw clubs in at the deep end who aren't possibly ready for life in the Premiership."