Getting shirty…RFU warning to Premiership

2Aug - by Tim - 2 - In Club talk

Now look at them yo-yos, that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the mtv
That ain’t workin, that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’, and chicks for free

Dire Straits – Money For Nothing

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It was good to hear from Simon Jackson again this week.

There can be few more committed Coventry fans than Simon.

Indeed, having seen him celebrate on the Supporters’ Club coach on the way home from a couple of decent Cov away performances last season, there are those among us who think he should actually be committed…

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After all the interest surrounding the unveiling of the 2018/19 Cov kit last weekend, Simon drew my attention to the Wasps’ home kit for next season and in particular the difference in price between the two clubs’ respective replica shirts.

ONeills, the manufacturer of the Cov kit again for the second season running, has sensibly priced its home and away tops at £44.99 – by no means cheap but probably what you’d expect to pay for a replica shirt these days.

Under Armour, on the other hand, with whom Coventry somewhat unsuccessfully experimented the season before last, is to charge Wasps’ supporters a wapping £65 for its soon-to-be-released replica shirts, fully £20 more than the Cov one.

And if you want to purchase an ‘Authentic‘ Wasps shirt (although I’ve no idea why anyone would, given the fact that mostly likely it will need spraying on), well,  that will set you back a crazy £95.

£5 short of a ton…

…bonkers!

Money for nothing in my book, Wasps shirt or otherwise.

As far as I’m aware, Coventry wisely don’t even give you that option.

£95 –  that’s parking for all 11 home Championship games and very nearly a Cov shirt as well.

Or just 10 Premiership games if you’re a Wasps, supporter.

(Or, more to the point, a 1/4 pounder at each of the 22 Championship games, home and away).

The two clubs might only be a league apart, but there seems to be the world of difference between the prices of the two shirts.

Worse still, if you’re a Wasps’ fan that is, ONeills charges what appears to be a fair £34.99 for a child’s replica shirt, Under Armour and it’s a hefty £50.

So, whereas it would cost a family of 4 Cov supporters  £159.96 in all  to kit themselves for the season (shirt-wise), it would cost £230 for a family of 4 Waspies – £70 more.

And when you begin to add the hats, scarves and pink furry pencil cases and it really starts to get expensive.

(Just by way of comparison, Leicester Tigers will be selling their shirts at £55 for adults and £50 for 12-16 years olds, which is still a lot more, but slightly more palatable than Under Armour).

I guess for Premiership rugby, you’re going to have to expect premier prices, although it rather looks as if Wasps might well be at the top end of what we might be faced with having to fork out when, and not if, we reach the promised land – or if not promised, then much sought after.

(I’m not entirely sure that Jon Sharp would be too enamoured at being compared to Moses, especially given Moses never actually made it into the promised land himself…so all-in-all that’s a pretty crass analogy on my part, even more so given the concerns over anti-semitism in politics currently filling the broadsheets. Whoops…).

Still, it rather appears that whatever ‘milk and honey is available over in the Premiership, it’s not accessible to a great many, at least not at those prices.

To misquote Rowland Winter from a while back, we might currently be enjoying shopping at Waitrose but at those sorts of prices you’d be expecting something from Fortnum and Mason.

However, as Cov consolidates its position in the  Championship and ultimately becomes a realistic promotion contender, so its gates will grow – probably at least doubling, or even trebling, from what they were last season.

And the likelihood is, as crowd numbers change, so will the demographics too…

Cov’s average gate was around 1850 last season (buoyed considerably by the 3700 odd who attended the final game of the season) many of whom were well into their mid 30s and beyond. Appealing to a younger audience has long been an aim for the club.

In your fifties and sixties you buy rugby shirts as presents, in your 20s and thirties you receive them.

I’m sure that as Cov becomes more successful, that average age will drop – just as, I would hesitate to guess, demand for club merchandise will increase, especially replica shirts.

I’ve no evidence either way on which to base that, but I imagine a regular supporter of any football/rugby team in their 20s and 30s is more likely to buy a replica shirt than someone in their 60s and 70s?

I’m sure when Wasps first came to Cov in 2014, the increased ground capacity and general interest in the club amongst a much younger set of supporters, including a good few thousand juniors, must have led to a massive upturn in the demand for Wasps’ shirts, even at those sorts of prices, if only because so many new supporters living in Coventry wouldn’t even have had a Wasps’ shirt in their wardrobe of any description. a captive audience.

I’m equally sure there was far less of an adverse reaction to paying £60 or so then, say, than would be the case were Cov to be promoted at the end of this season and supporters found themselves facing a £20 increase.

The other thing stopping many of my generation buying a new shirt these days is that they aren’t the most flattering of fits – bring back the good old baggy cotton replica and heck, even I might splash out.

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I’m also indebted to Mark P for forwarding an article in the Daily Telegraph earlier in the week entitled:  RFU warns English Premiership clubs that soaring player salaries are no longer sustainable.

I make mention of it here because it follows on from the Ben Franks’ post on Tuesday, containing as it does some interesting factual info that might be of interest to others, like myself, who aren’t fully cognisant of current developments relating to the Premiership, and by implication, the Championship as well.

Written by The Torygraph’s rugby correspondent, Gavin Mairs, the article opens by suggesting that the RFU has issued a warning  to the Premiership that the spiralling increases in players’ salaries is something that just isn’t sustainable. No revelation there, really.

Further, and in what amounts to a double whammy, its second 4-year payment to Premiership clubs (part of an 8-year deal)  in 2020 could decrease considerably from the £112m agreed in 2016 for the first 4-year  instalment.

Only Exeter of the current 12 Premiership is profitable, this despite the fact that each club has a £7m, yes £7,000,0000, salary cap in addition (and I have to confess I was unaware of this) to being allowed two ‘marquee’ signings that aren’t included as part of that figure.

Bristol Bears, for instance, has just signed Charles Piutau, the former New Zealand and Wasps full back/wing, on a staggering £1m a year contract, on its own almost twice the RFU payment to each of the Championship sides.

The exact amount of the RFU’s next 4 year payment to the Premiership clubs is apparently dependent of the financial performance of the RFU itself and given that it is currently in the middle of a £3m cost-cutting exercise, it seems more than likely that the RFU won’t be able to match its previous 4-year deal, let alone better it.

Mairs suggests that the RFU is currently in the process of making some 62 of its employees redundant – yet the same body is prepared to pay each England player £22,000 per test in addition to the £30m per year to the 12 Premiership clubs.

The need  for the RFU to reduce it’s expenditure is, according to Mairs:

because of the rise of (its) fixed costs, including player salaries and the deal with the clubs…

… and hence the need for a reduction in the amount it is able to fund the Premiership in the future.

According to RFU Chief Executive, Steve Brown,  there’s a safety net in place so that after the first four years of the agreement, income received by the Premiership clubs is dependant on the RFU’s own finances…well done them, eh?

So apparently, are the jobs of 62 employees, though – doubtless, just a bit of collateral damage by the sound of things, then.

Whilst defending the RFU’s decision to make the England’s squad the highest paid internationals in world rugby, Brown does accept that:

salary inflation has gone beyond the affordability of clubs…and some nations as well 

and blame for that has to lie, in part, with the RFU and its French equivalent, the FFR.

It has sat back and allowed the gap between the Championship and the Premiership to widen and widen and whilst it talks openly about the current situation being unsustainable, it appears powerless to do a great deal about it. If, heaven forbid, Premiership ringfencing ever does become a reality, then the RFU must shoulder the blame for allowing the Premiership clubs to become so powerful.

It’s all very well celebrating salary caps, as Brown does:

our wage caps are really important…

but if 11 of the 12 Premiership sides are making losses, and some of them fairly substantial ones at that, salary caps clearly aren’t the answer, at least not in isolation, with other more stringent measures designed to reduce the current levels of spending of Premiership clubs needed sooner rather than later now.

Brown goes on to say that salary inflation is a challenge:

that we have in the game as a whole. The England piece (sic) specifically; it is high but reasonably well contained. There is a reasonable performance element to it as well

…yet his comments elsewhere in the article suggest that it is anything but reasonably well contained, with costs spiralling and the RFU facing continued financial difficulties resulting in that probable cutback in RFU funding of the Premiership from 2020 onwards.

Any ‘reasonable performance element‘ is bound to impact negatively on clubs already overspending and only comes into operation because the RFU is itself falling well short of  what most people would regard as financial prudence . If ‘containment comes from having to make £3m of cost cuts itself, including 62 redundancies, then it strikes me the RFU is hardly containing the situation ‘well‘.

Competition between the clubs to entice big-name players into the Premiership so as to increase attendances and attract even greater television deals is so intense that clubs are always going to have to over-stretch themselves to breaking point,

So much so, in fact, that it’s almost inevitable that one of them will ultimately succumb to financial pressures and in the end suffer the same fate as London Welsh. That can only be avoided if sanctions are put in place that are so tough as to force clubs into reining in their current  levels of spending.

I’ll leave the final say with Iain S whose comment on the Franks’ post sum up so succinctly the current situation.

I only wish I had written it myself…

Premiership clubs that have overspent in the past or are failing to live within their means should be rewarded with a permanent place in the premiership.
Championship clubs that have managed their finances sensibly and avoided commitments they can’t afford, such as a reckless bid for premiership status, should be punished with permanent exclusion from the top tier.
Ring-fencing would enable premiership clubs to spend less on players, potentially making rugby less attractive as a spectator sport. At the same time rugby below the premiership is not really worth watching at all and the sport should only be viewed in any significant numbers at a maximum of 6 venues across the whole of England on any given weekend.
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£65 for a replica rugby top.
Money for Nothing…
One for me, one for the wife and a couple for the kids and…
…I’m in…
Dire Straits

2 thoughts on “Getting shirty…RFU warning to Premiership”

  1. Salary cap? Pah! It’s a ‘known’ fact that there are clubs who have been spending well beyond their means in order to remain competitive in the Premiership. Look at the losses that Wasps and Saracans have been making, propped up differently between the two of them, but significant losses that only football clubs can match. any other businesses would have had serious investigation, as would any other business. It seems to me that sport is exempt form some rules.

    1. Totally agree…salary structures need to be linked to turnover – i.e. a % of…At the moment it’s a farce and will only lead to clubs getting themselves into more and more debt…meanwhile, Cov will continue to build and bide its time.

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