April 3 (Reuters) - European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has awarded the 2018 Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and Continental Shield finals to Bilbao, making the Spanish city the first host of the weekend festival outside Europe’s traditional rugby territories.
Bilbao will become the first city outside Britain, Ireland and France to host the event, while the 2019 finals have been awarded to Newcastle, the EPCR said in a statement on Monday.
Next year’s finals will be held at San Mames Stadium, the home of La Liga side Athletic Bilbao. The stadium has a capacity of 53,289 following its recent refurbishment.
“We are very excited to be taking the best club rugby in the world to fans in what is largely a new market,” EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday said. “Bilbao is an excellent destination which breaks new ground for our tournaments and we see this as a big step in the expansion of our sport across the continent.”
The Champions Cup is a top-tier competition for clubs that have qualified in their national leagues in countries that are part of the Six Nations, while the Challenge Cup is for clubs from the second-tier.
The French city of Lyon staged the finals weekend last year. That event generated an estimated 20.4 million euros ($21.7 million) for the local economy.
Italy’s Milan was due to host the final in 2015 but it instead went to Twickenham after the demise of the old Heineken Cup format.
$1 = 0.9389 euros Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; editing by Mark Heinrich