Cardiff Blues have announced that the Arms Park pitch will be replaced with an artificial pitch for next season after approval by their board, BBC Wales have reported.

Blues have taken this decision following the poor state of their natural playing surface since they returned to their famous home in 2012 following a relocation to the new Cardiff City Stadium in 2010.

While this decision still needs approval from the Welsh Rugby Union, BBC Wales have reported that this will likely be purely a formality.

The task of replacing the natural grass is planned to begin in early June

Celtic Rugby, which administers the Pro12 League, and ERC, the body which runs the Heineken Cup, have both already given the plan their blessing.

Blues chief executive Richard Holland confirmed the region had agreed terms with a supplier and had a financial plan in place to cover the estimated £400,000 installation costs.

The Blues took part in the first professional rugby match to be played on Saracens' artificial pitch at Allianz Park in January this year, and the region's management were impressed with the surface.

It was a significant development given the criticism levelled at the Cardiff Arms Park pitch during the 2012-13 season.

The Blues had previously shared the Cardiff City Stadium with the Welsh capital's football team, but returned to rugby's traditional home in the city after poor attendances and pressure from fans.

However, at the start of May, Holland admitted that the ground at the Arms Park was not suitable for modern rugby.

"We have Lions backs and world-class youngsters, but they can't run in mud," he said.

"We are part of the entertainment industry and we can't expect fans to pay £15 or £20 or buy a season ticket."

The friendly match against Sale Sharks on Friday, 23 August, is likely to be the first game played on the new surface.

Guinness, the world famous Diageo-owned beer brand, has announced two long-term sponsorship deals, with both England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

Guinness replaces Greene King IPA as the official beer of England Rugby in a four-year deal. Greene King IPA's previous agreement expired at the end of the 2011/12 season.

An official press release stated that, 'the partnership will create unique opportunities to deliver engaging experiences for all supporters, not just those at Twickenham', and will build on Guinness's existing collaborative relationship with the governing body.

Sophie Goldschmidt, chief commercial officer at the RFU said: "We are delighted to be announcing another long term partnership with a brand that has a strong rugby association and shares our aims to prioritise fan engagement. This new broadened partnership with Guinness is in line with our strategy to have integrated more enhanced partnerships and we are looking forward to working with them to provide the best match day experience for fans."

In addition to the new deal with the RFU, Guinness has also extended its official partner agreement with the WRU until at least 2016.

Guinness maintains its official partner status with the WRU, a partnership which first started back in 2010, alongside the likes of Admiral, Gilbert, Brains Beer, Powerade, Heineken, Under Armour and Seat.

Roger Lewis, WRU chief executive, said: "We are delighted to be announcing the continuation of our partnership with Guinness, a brand that has such a strong rugby heritage. We have worked closely with Guinness over the last three years and we look forward to developing the best match day experiences for our supporters over the coming three years."

The financial terms of both deals were not released.

With the 2013 British and Irish Lions first game just weeks away, global logistics firm DHL has announced a partnership with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to become the naming rights partner of the tour.

The agreement with the ARU, the hosts of the tour, will see the nine-match series renamed as the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour.

The deal signifies a welcome boost for the ARU, who announced a loss of AUS$8.3 million in April, followed by the reported talks over the tour naming rights with Australian bank Westpac which were believed to have broken down in early May.

It is not yet known what financial investment was required from DHL to secure the naming rights, however South African Breweries Ltd (SAB) paid US$2.5 million for title sponsorship of the last Lions tour in South Africa in 2009.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said: "DHL is one of the world's most iconic rugby partners and a natural choice as the naming rights partner for the tour. A British & Irish Lions Tour is unlike any other event in world sport and we are extremely excited to partner with DHL to deliver what promises to be the most successful tour in Australian rugby history.

"12 years ago we sold 300,000 tickets. This year we're on track to see 400,000 fans walk through the gates to celebrate one the world's most iconic sporting teams taking on the cream of Australian rugby. With only a handful of tickets left, the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour is shaping up as the must-see sporting event of the year."

DHL Express senior vice president Oceania, Gary Edstein, added: "DHL is excited to bring the Lions down under as partner of the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia. As a sport played all over the world, rugby is the perfect fit for DHL as a global brand.

"DHL is proud of past associations with rugby which are almost as far reaching as our network. DHL supports Rugby teams in Kenya, South Africa and Fiji. We also successfully delivered rugby to the world as the official logistics partner of Rugby World Cup 2011 and were a partner of the 2005 DHL Lions Series of New Zealand."

The DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour gets underway on Wednesday 5th June with the tourists taking on the Western Force at Patersons Stadium in Perth, with the first test to take place on June 22nd at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

This season's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final has sold out for the fifth year in a row, Premiership Rugby has today announced.

With over 82,000 fans set to descend on Twickenham this Saturday to see Leicester Tigers take on Northampton Saints, tickets have sold out faster than any other Premiership Rugby Final, with all profits returned to the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs.

"The appeal of Aviva Premiership Rugby is at an all-time high and selling out the Final so quickly this year is great news for professional club rugby in England," said Dominic Hayes, Premiership Rugby's commercial director.

"Saturday's game has captured the public's imagination and the buzz around a Tigers v Saints match on a domestic rugby's biggest stage is huge. It is testament to the great work of the team involved in marketing the Final and also to our 12 clubs, all of whom will be well represented at Twickenham on Saturday."

The news comes at a poignant time for the sport, following the recent announcement which sees Premiership Rugby in a new four year agreement with BT, giving the broadcaster rights to show up to 69 live matches per season via its new platform, BT Sport.

The final will be shown live on ESPN, 5 Live and talkSPORT, with an extended highlights programme on ITV4 at 11pm on Saturday night.

 

The financial reputation of Rugby League was in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2012 and the start of 2013 sees the RFL making the news once again. The downfall and resurrections of Super League teams Bradford Bulls and Salford were well documented by the media in 2012, although both have begun the season with a winning start.

 However, the financial issues haven’t been resolved overnight, with a recent BBC Inside Out investigation revealing that Super League clubs are facing combined debts in excess of £60m. Sports finance expert Rob Wilson from Sheffield Hallam University believes that describing the situation as ‘Rugby League staring at the financial abyss’ is not entirely unwarranted.

The chief executive of Leeds Rhinos, six times Super League champions, insists that the problem lies with financial management at club level: "The product on the field has never been better, the crowds are very strong, the TV audiences are very strong, the game itself is as good as it's ever been," Gary Hetherington told the BBC.

"We don't want that overshadowed by incompetence at club level - and that's what we've seen in recent years.

"We need to rid ourselves of poor management practices. All clubs have a real responsibility, a real role to play. The majority of clubs are working hard. It's some of the others that have let the sport down, quite frankly."

The RFL director of standards and licensing Blake Solly agreed that the on-field product is not the problem:

"Attendances were at an all-time high in 2012, more people saw the game on television than ever before and the RFL was able to make record levels of financial disbursements to clubs."

The BBC report came days before the RFL appointed Brian Barwick as the new non-executive chairman. The ex-FA chairman intends to use his far reaching and influential contacts to further promote Rugby League and assist clubs in turning around the financial deficit.  

With the Rugby League World Cup being held in England and Wales later on this year, many feel that this could be the key to stabilising the sport’s financial future through an increase in commercial income, while simultaneously attracting stable sponsors and partners. Whether or not it will be enough to financially support the RFL in the long term is yet to be seen. 

 

By Emily Shotton

The Premiership’s salary cap, which was first introduced in 1999, was created to provide an equal and competitive playing field. Currently set at £4.26m per club, rumours have been circulating within the top English league that some clubs are breaking this limit.

Head coaches from London Irish and Harlequins, Brian Smith and Conor O’Shea, have implied that certain clubs within the Premiership have breached the ceiling, with Northampton Saints’ chairman Leon Barwell joining the row earlier on this year.

"I think we are fairly clear in our minds that there are at least two teams in the Premiership that cheat on the wage cap and I'm not talking about a bit of tinkering around the edges, I'm talking about big time," he said.

Phil Winstanley, Premiership Rugby’s rugby director commented on the issue: "Are we aware of the rumours? Of course we are. I'm not naive. It's not falling on deaf ears. But we have a robust system with extensive powers.”

This season has seen clubs allowed to make a ‘marquee signing’, whose salary is not included in the wage cap, however the main concern remains as to how two Premiership clubs are affording squads consisting of between 50 and 54 players while other squads are made up of around 35, regardless of ‘marquee’ signings.

In March, Saints’ chairman emphasised that the club was up to its limits within the entire ‘playing’ department, including players and support staff, with its latest accounts showing an expenditure of £7.2m. This was before the Saints signed Welsh international George North at the beginning of April, in a deal rumoured to be worth over £200,000.

The signing has been controversial for a number of reasons after it publicised the ongoing row between the WRU and the Welsh regions, and it will no doubt provide a further talking point in the discussions regarding players’ wages and the salary cap.   

 

By Emily Shotton

Leicester Tigers' season ticket sales for 2013/14 have already topped the 12,000 mark, even before this season's campaign has finished.

The Tigers are still to play Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday 25th May but already the club's fans are pledging their continued support for the upcoming season.

A season ticket provides the most convenient and best value-for-money way to follow the Tigers, guaranteeing entry to 17 games for the price of just 12 when compared with matchday rates.

With 2013/14 tickets already in high demand, availability in most areas is limited so fans are being urged to book their places fast to avoid disappointment..

Tigers season tickets include entry to all 11 Aviva Premiership regular league matches, three Heineken Cup and two LV= Cup pool games, plus the pre-season fixture against Ulster Rugby on August 31.

Season ticket holders also have priority when it comes to booking tickets for any knockout fixtures, away games and any international fixtures at Welford Road.

Current season tickets holders have until May 17 to renew their same seats.

All other supporters who book season tickets before May 17 will have priority on any seats released by current season ticket holders.

 

 

 

Global nutrition company Herbalife has taken its first steps into the world of professional rugby, having been confirmed as the new official nutrition partner to the Ospreys.

The agreement will see the company, which sells weight management, nutrition and personal care products, appear on the collar of the Ospreys jersey, which is the second biggest selling in UK and Ireland.

As part of the deal, Herbalife will also supply its H24 sports range of products to the Ospreys team and provide support and advice to the Ospreys coaching staff from its team of nutritionists.

Gavin Aley, country director for the UK and Ireland for Herbalife, said: "We are delighted to be announcing this partnership and working with the Ospreys. They are a very community-oriented organisation, which very much matches our ethos at Herbalife. We hope this deal will bring us ever closer to the local communities in the region and in turn become the blueprint for future partnerships.”

The Ospreys School Programme, which was launched at the Liberty Stadium last year, is on target to meet its aim of reaching 3,000 primary school pupils per academic year.

Aley continued: "We are always looking for in-depth relationships - it's our philosophy in everything we do. Rugby is a mass market, with mass appeal but for us it was a case of finding a partner which shared our values and where we could also work closely with the fitness and nutritional staff to bring our expertise to the table."

Yarnie Guthrie, Ospreys commercial manager, commented: "We are delighted to be working with such a high profile global brand as Herbalife and it was very satisfying to hear the way in which they value the increased investment we have made into community activities in recent years.

"Our partnership illustrates the strength of the Ospreys brand and how it is increasingly recognised and valued globally. As one of the world's leading suppliers of nutrition products our conditioning team are excited about using the H24 specialist sports range and working closely with Herbalife's team of experts to enhance the levels of support given to our players throughout the season helping them to perform at the highest level possible.

"This deal covers a number of bases for both companies and I am sure we will both benefit immensely from the expertise and reach we both bring to the table. As a business we look forward to enjoying a close and mutually beneficial relationship with our new partner."

The battle between the UK's two sports broadcasting heavyweights has seen an interesting development, with BT Sport announcing that they are to offer free Premier League coverage to its broadband customers.

The announcement will be one welcomed by BT internet customers far more than it will by BskyB, who can only view it as a further sign of BT's intent to launch a competitive challenge in the pay-tv market.

BT currently has 6.3 million broadband customers, and this is a clear indication that they will be looking to convert this considerable figure into pay-tv customers, of which they currently have just 750,000. This is dwarfed by Sky's 10 million pay-tv subscribers.

After the announcement by BT, BSkyB's shares were down by more than 6% at the close of play in London.

BT will provide all of its 38 Premier League games free to broadband customers, including 18 "first pick" matches, on three channels: BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN.

BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones believes that while this may be a gamble, it is a strategy that will be looking for profits in the long-term rather than an instant return on their considerable investment, and ultimately that it is a gamble that may very well pay off.

"This is all about reinforcing BT's broadband business and making its customers less likely to head elsewhere.
More and more consumers are choosing to get their phone, TV and broadband services in one package - with Sky an obvious choice for many.

The satellite broadcaster has been Britain's fastest growing broadband supplier in recent years, winning many of its new customers from BT.

But for consumers there's the prospect of more choice and lower prices - which looks like good news."

Broadband packages on BT will cost from £10 a month

But customers who want to access the sports channels will also need to pay for a set top box, or pay an extra £5 per month for the basic television package.

That compares with Sky's offer of 116 Premier League matches, as part of a six-channel sports package that costs £42.50 per month for the first six months, and includes broadband internet.

BT Sport's channels will also show 69 live Aviva Premiership rugby matches per season, plus live football from leagues in Germany, France, Italy and Brazil.

Chief executive Ian Livingston said: "UK sports fans have had a rough deal for too long. Many have been priced out of the market, but we will change this by giving away BT Sport for free with our broadband.

"Sports fans are the winners today."

BT Sport is also taking on BSkyB in pubs and clubs, with an offer of 12 months' subscription for the price of nine, and a free installation offer lasting until 1 July.

About half the premises taking up the offer will end up paying £135 a month, BT said, while packages for hotels and betting shops could undercut Sky by 75%.

Gloucester Rugby are delighted to announce that ADEY Professional Heating Solutions have agreed a three year deal to become the club's new main sponsor.

The deal was announced at a press conference on Wednesday at Kingsholm Stadium, at which the club also unveiled a sneak preview of their new look home shirt for the 2013-14 season.

ADEY is an award winning Gloucestershire company that has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years. The business invented and produces the MagnaClean filters that maintain and protect central heating systems in nearly two million UK homes.

The former Gloucestershire Business of the Year and Queen's Award for Innovation winner

continues to invest in ongoing product development. The company has previously been listed in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 as the fastest growing independent manufacturing business in the country.

Gloucester Rugby CEO Stephen Vaughan explained that the search for a new main sponsor had been a long, exhaustive one but that ADEY are absolutely the right partner going forward.

"It was hugely important to us to find the best possible match having enjoyed six great years with our previous main sponsor Jewson.

"The process has been ongoing since pretty much the start of the season, and we've obviously spoken to a number of potential partners with a high level of interest.

"However, ADEY are exactly the right fit. They're a young, dynamic company, a success story with their roots in the county. They also have aspirations to expand into Europe and we genuinely hope that we can help them achieve that.

"We're delighted to have them as Gloucester Rugby's new main sponsor and look forward to a long fruitful working relationship with them."

ADEY's Managing Director Kelvin Stevens accepted that the announcement represented a big step for a company that ten years ago was operating from a garden shed.

"We're used to moving quickly and taking sizeable steps and are delighted to be supporting Gloucester Rugby as main club sponsors. The sponsorship will raise our profile beyond the UK heating industry and help us continue our impressive growth in the future.

"While we clearly don't have the long tradition of one of the strongest and best supported rugby clubs in the country, we've come a long way and achieved a huge amount in a short period of time.

"Gloucester Rugby is built on pride and passion and similarly we're extremely passionate about what we do and proud of our success to date. We're a dynamic organisation, ambitious and we believe we've also got a team with exceptional potential.

"And, like Gloucester, we've set our sights firmly on success in Europe, so we have a lot in common.

"All of this is backed up by market leading products that protect heating systems and deliver tangible benefits for householders and the environment.

"We're really looking forward to working with Gloucester Rugby to ensure we communicate these positive messages and achieve our goals together."