European rugby has been plunged into disarray following an announcement by English clubs that they had agreed a separate TV deal with BT.
The future of the Heineken Cup is the subject of renewed doubt after BT secured exclusive live broadcast rights to games played by Aviva Premiership teams in Europe from 2014 for three years.
It is a provocative move by Premiership Rugby designed to force the hand of ERC, who run the Heineken Cup, which also pressurises the competition's current broadcaster Sky.
The English and French clubs are in dispute with ERC over the structure of the northern hemisphere's greatest club tournament, threatening to set up an alternative when the current agreement ends in 2014 if their demands are not met.
Their chief concern is a qualification structure that favours teams from the RaboDirect PRO 12 and qualifying will be the central talking point when ERC stakeholders meet in Dublin next Tuesday.
ERC reacted to the developments by issuing a statement claiming the deal with BT is "in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC board itself".
"European club rugby's six participant Unions have granted the authority to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to ERC," read the statement.
"It was unanimously agreed at an ERC board meeting on 6 June, 2012 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup until 2018. Premiership Rugby was party to that decision.
"ERC remains determined to honour its own commercial commitments and to continue its work to further develop the European club game."
Sky indicated they are unwilling to concede ground in the battle of the broadcasters by swiftly announcing confirmation of their agreement with ERC. The contract with BT, which also includes exclusive live coverage of the Premiership for four years from next season, is worth up to £152million, a figure that will clearly adjust on the basis of what is agreed over the coming weeks.
- Heineken Cup
- Premiership Rugby