So farewell then Heineken Cup; a tournament which can claim a very special place in the hearts of millions of rugby fans. The Six Nations may be a glamorous fight with the neighbours but the Heineken Cup was the business end of seeing your team compete internationally with the grit and grunt of a stunning club clash. Whilst Autumn internationals and Six Nations seem like the preserve of the 'prawn and chardonnay' lucky corporate few (especially for those who can't get tickets), being part of a Heineken Cup clash was in the reach of most fans. With the added advantage that you would probably sit next to someone with a pretty good knowledge of the sport rather than a 20 minute recurring need to leave their seat to visit the bar.
So for those of us who sat in 'Team Heineken' how will sports PR sell us the European Champions Cup? The recent off-field negotiations initially looked like 'business as usual' governance carping and gamesmanship but, having initially judged this harshly, it could have been that the RFU and FRU were on to something.
It has been well documented how the new competition will be formatted but to recap - there will be seven teams from the Pro12, six teams each from the Aviva Premiership and the French Top 14, with a seventh place available to one of them based on a play-off. With a 20 team tournament, there will be fewer teams so greater competition. For the Pro12 teams, the top side from each country will qualify with the remaining three chosen on merit, meaning the Pro12 itself will improve. With its allocation dropping from 11 to seven, Scottish and Italian sides are no longer guaranteed their two automatic spots and each domestic game will take on a new level of importance.
European Professional Cup Rugby, which takes over from European Rugby Cup Ltd as the organizers of the tournament, is opting to recruit up to six global partners rather than one headline sponsor. This is sound financial thinking if it achieves its predicted target of £100m turnover in five years, double its current figure. Broadcast rights are also key, not least of all as sports marketing agencies are predicting that the tournament's international value is set to explode. UK fans may be upset at having to pay for BTSport and Sky Sports in order to see all the matches but, from a business point of view, convincing both broadcasters to sign a co-rights deal was an impressive feat.
Also fundamental to the new format is that all stakeholders have signed an 'evergreen' agreement; only after an initial six-year period can unions give their two-year notice to withdraw, giving the tournament even more stability. Financial assistance of £20m over five years has been given to the Pro 12 teams to compensate them for the reduced profit share they will now receive (33% as opposed to 52%).
The garden isn't all rosy and the sports public relations need to click into overdrive should the negative prophesies come to pass. With France and England profit share rising from 24% to 33%, a reasonable fear (or hope) is that these teams will dominate claims on the Cup's silverware. Welsh fans are especially worried; the reduced funding coupled with the rows in the regions could see more of their players move from cash-strapped regional clubs to the affluent Top 14.
However the competition is good news for emerging FIRA nations. Part of the shake-up is the creation of a third-tier Qualifying Competition, giving up to 12 developing rugby sides from Georgia, Romania and Russia quality European encounters. Most notably, the tournament's title is no coincidence as both finalists will qualify for the following season's Challenge Cup.
So after the dust has settled what have rugby's powers created? A more attractive proposition for sponsors and brands? Yes. A more competitive competition? Absolutely. A well structured format? Definitely. A better deal for all nations? Based on majority rule, potentially but we will have to wait and see.