Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 12

Memorandum submitted by the Rugby Football Club

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  This memorandum has been prepared in response to Press Notice No.16 of Session 1998-99, dated 11 May 1999.

  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").

  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;

    —  Union and League; and

    —  Promotion of Rugby Football.

2.  FINANCIAL STATUS OF AFFAIRS

  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;

    —  Sponsors; and

    —  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 professional rugby.

  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 top—administrators 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 community—from 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 international levels.

  A prime example of bureaucracy holding back development is in the town of Rugby—home 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 facilities—government-led ideally—then all parties might benefit, less money wasted, and the winner would be sport.

3.  UNION AND LEAGUE

  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.

4.  PROMOTION OF RUGBY FOOTBALL

  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 base.

  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 schools.

  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 and Sportsmatch.

  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.

June 1999


 
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Prepared 14 December 1999