Memorandum submitted by the Rugby Football
1.1 This memorandum has been prepared in
response to Press Notice No.16 of Session 1998-99, dated 11 May
1.2 The Rugby Football Club ("The Lions")
is a member of the Rugby Football Union ("RFU") and
currently competes in the Allied Dunbar Premiership Division 2,
and accordingly is a member of the English Second Division Rugby
ESDR is the representative body of the member
clubs of the Rugby Football Union, which participate in the Allied
Dunbar Premiership Division 2. ESDR has two representatives on
the Board of English Rugby Partnership ("ERP") and one
representative on the council of the Rugby Football Union.
1.3 The Rugby "Lions", formed
in 1873, celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. The club
plays at the aptly named, Webb Ellis Road, and has strong affiliation
with Rugby School and Gilberts, the original rugby ball manufacturers.
We currently run mini and junior rugby, from
Under 7's all the way through to Under 16's level. The senior
section starts at Under 17's, Under 19's through to Third, Second
and First XV's.
The 1st XV squad is a mixture of semi professionals
who are rewarded by a mixture of employment contracts, appearance
money and win bonuses. In the season just finished, 1998-99, the
squad contained a handful of professional players.
The writer, currently Chief Executive of the
club has been associated with the Rugby Lions since 1966, when
he supported the club as a 13 year old. He has played for the
club over four decades, from the 60s to the 90s, primarily for
the 1st team. He has played for Warwickshire, Midlands, in England
trials and is a Cambridge "blue". Other clubs include
Coventry Rugby Club, where he was Captain in a career spanning
10 years, and Waterloo RFC. Since the mid 80s, the writer has
been actively involved in Sports Management and Sponsorship in
sport and especially rugby football.
Summary of Issues
Financial Status of Affairs;
Promotion of Rugby Football.
The Rugby Football Club made an operating loss
of over £384,000 for the year ending April 1998. Losses for
the current year, 1999, are envisaged at around £400,000.
For the year 1997, the first year of professionalism and the Rugby
Football Club's last as an amateur club, accounts showed a profit
of over £34,000.
2.1 It is generally accepted that professional
Rugby Union is not sustainable at present levels without the support
of one or more of the following:
Long term investors who seek to secure
a franchise for the future of the professional game;
Individual emotional investors attached
to a club or the game;
The allocation of nationally negotiated
sponsorship monies, as currently with Sky/Allied Dunbar.
2.2 The Rugby Football Club has made cumulative
operating losses of nearly £1 million, since the advent of
2.3 The principle reason for the unsatisfactory
present state of affairs arises from a number of factors including:
(a) The desire of individual clubs to survive
at the top level until there is a more realistic playing structure
for professional rugby put in place;
(b) Player aspirations to maximise earnings
given their short playing life;
(c) Lack of a cohesive plan, and the subsequent
administrative and financial chaos within, and between the governing
bodies in the United Kingdom; and
(d) With few exceptions, unattractive and
outmoded grounds and stadia.
2.4 Our Chairman made a comment that he
had to authorise the club's foray into professionalism, and that,
had he not done so, he was fearful of where the club may have
ended up. He was referring to the club's league position. The
advent of professionalism, from a "standing start" of
amateur rugby, has meant that paranoia has set in at all levels.
All clubs have aspirations, and no one wants to get left behind
in the scramble to be in the top echelons. As more businessmen
have come into the game, others, in clubs lower down have started
to raise their club's expectation in the hope of achieving higher
status. The game of rugby traditionally, has the backing of a
higher proportion of people with social background. This has created
a groundswell of optimism and false delusion of where each club's
aspirations lie. The league structure has further sharpened this
competitive edge. Whereas in the old days clubs played friendly
matches, the lure of promotion and relegation means, that success
is now defined by a clear level of achievement, based on your
status in the leagues. Add to that, the various tiers of defined
sponsorship and league structures, ie Allied Dunbar Premiership
Division 1 and 2, and Jewson National League 1 etc, each club
has a clear and defined target status they want to aspire to.
2.5 Professionalism has opened up a whole
new area of opportunity for players and administrators alike.
Suddenly a new breed of professional rugby player has emerged,
fuelled by high expectations of lucrative careers, and propped
up by business administrators, keen to run a once amateur sport
as a business. The hype surrounding the entry of prominent business
investors and Sky Television into the sport of rugby has created
an aura of riches, running parallel with the successes achieved
by our national sport, soccer. It has been a false illusion. Of
course, the game of rugby cannot sustain such extravagance, and
the result has been plain to see. Clubs at all levels up and down
the country are in parlous financial states.
There is an argument for tighter controls and
direction from the Rugby Football Union, with salary caps and
central funding for elite players. However, lack of initial leadership
has resulted in such initiatives being inappropriate in the current
climate. It seems that market forces are being allowed to prevail
and no doubt, time will smooth out some of the game's current
ailments, but at some cost to the fabric of the sport.
2.6 The single most important factor in
the malaise that has hit the sport of rugby, is the lack of control
and planning exercised by the authorities running the sport. Professionalism
had been "foisted" on millions of amateur rugby players
and administrators from a standing start. They have grabbed whatever
they can or learned to swim the murky waters, in order to keep
at the forefront of change. Most have failed miserably.
Everyone wants to look after their own interest
first and foremost. Vision can only be put forward for implementation
by people at the topadministrators and leaders running
the sport. Managing change has been extremely difficult. People
and bodies at most levels within the sport, at international,
national and regional levels are at odds with each other. There
are those who question whether the game should have gone professional
at all, to those who are trying to manage the change. There is
great disharmony and suspicion within the sport.
This lack of stability has resulted in a poor
image for the game, thus culminating in reduced sponsorship opportunities.
Goodwill and support from the local community, be it at business
level or personal has declined. The view is that until the sport
gets its act together, and clubs in turn decide where they fit
into the local community, why should business or individuals support
ever increasing sponsorship costs or higher entry prices. Neither
the product, nor the marketing of it is good enough yet in the
face of other attractions and opportunities.
2.7 A major factor that could be a redefining
moment for the sport of rugby, will be the advent of improved
and purpose built stadia. Currently, with a few exceptions, facilities
at grounds are archaic and spartan, catering for the traditional
male supporter. But times have changed, and other sports, soccer
being the prime example, have got purpose built facilities catering
to a whole cross section of the communityfrom the young
to the old, and with particular emphasis on comfort and choice,
especially for families.
Association football has come on leaps and bounds
since the adoption of the Taylor Report and subsequent improvements
in stadia. There is every reason to believe that a similar initiative,
along with other measures, will improve rugby's image and viability.
It will bring in extra income through the gates and increased
sponsorship and awareness of the sport to a much larger audience.
There has been talk of sharing stadiums with
association football, and indeed certain success has been achieved.
However, we believe that the future of rugby football is in having
a clear, defined market that it can secure and develop. Rugby
needs its own culture, its own purpose built grounds and control
of its own destiny.
The sport is crying out for a government/sports
council led initiative, which could establish a national network
of multi purpose stadia, catering for up to 10-15,000 spectators.
There has to be will on the government's part to push through
such a programme. Planning restrictions need to be eased, and
close consultation with local councils should be a part of our
ethos, if we have any ambition to develop sport at national and
A prime example of bureaucracy holding back
development is in the town of Rugbyhome of rugby football.
Some years back, a Warwickshire County Council initiative to develop
a themed "World of Rugby" park, museum, stadium and
related facilities, was taken up by a private individual willing
to put money in. Years later, it is still going through the necessary
planning stages, and consensus is that, after such a prolonged
process, it will not be approved. Surely, if there was goodwill,
cooperation and a commitment to develop such facilitiesgovernment-led
ideallythen all parties might benefit, less money wasted,
and the winner would be sport.
3. UNION AND
Relationships between Union and League rugby
have been well documented over the years. Both sports have grown
apart, with their own culture and regional differences. Some would
say that, with professionalism being a common theme now, it may
be time to look at them as one. Certainly, there has been tinkering
in the laws of both sports, which has brought them closer together
in terms of continuity. It is not something that the respective
bodies in charge should impose on the two codes. It may evolve
over time, and at this moment, there are sufficient differences,
to regard the sports as complimentary. Rugby League's decision
to play in the summer season may contribute to a closer working
relationship in the future. There are obvious synergies to be
gained by both codes.
A major factor in the decline of all sports,
not just rugby football, has been the discouragement of sport
in schools. Rugby and cricket, two of the top three traditional
sports, are the obvious ones to suffer. The mantra of teamwork,
social tolerance and discipline drilled into a generation of school
children over the years, is no longer there. The change is further
accentuated by society, where a breakthrough in global communication
and increased freedom of choice, have further diluted the traditional
The way forward has to be taken up by the governing
bodies and through clubs such as ours. The Rugby Football Club
runs teams from Under 7's through to every age group up to Under
19's, together with three Senior teams. Through deployment of
professional players, the club has set up a number of schemes
locally which involve the introduction of rugby and coaching in
Two such programmes are "Rugby in Schools
Project" and the "South Warwickshire Schools Project"
which the club has introduced with the help of local business
It is our club's intention to be at the forefront
of mini, junior and youth rugby, for ultimately we feel that the
club and the sport can only benefit in the long run. There is
talk of the Rugby Football Union introducing and funding academies
through Premiership Clubs. It is our view that this is the way
forward, not just for rugby football, but other sports too.
Our vision is of rugby football being introduced,
coached and developed under the auspices of our governing body,
the Rugby Football Union, through clubs and academies such as
ours. We see our role as, bastions of the sport, promoting the
game at all levels, and providing opportunities for rugby footballers
to play at the highest level they aspire to.
We see ourselves in the bigger picture, as part
of a sport, governed by the Rugby Football Union, where, through
our own efforts and success, we can aspire to whatever levels
we choose to.