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Irish Player Costs- An analysis

Gerry Thornley, 29 April 2014 “That there is likely to be more money for players is overdue and the Irish provinces have a proven culture, sense of identity and loyalty, as well as competitiveness, which their fellow Celts would covet. They’ve defied the odds before.”

On 3 March 2014, Andy Howell, rugby correspondent of the Western Mail, supposedly Wales’ No.1 rugby journalist, claimed that the Leinster Rugby team had a budget of £4.1m, including its academy players. In the quote above, the archetypal Irish rugby journalist, Gerry Thornley, implies that Irish players stay with their provinces due to loyalty, not money. That would be true if Howell’s budget was correct.

But is Howell correct? What did he do to verify the figure given to him, presumably by Leinster.

The first thing is to layout the structure of Irish Rugby at professional level. It is entirely controlled by the Union. The IRFU own the professional teams. Munster, Ulster, Leinster & Connacht Rugby are all entities it seems who are owned 100% by the IRFU. It is those entities that operate the relevant provincial sides. There are limited companies set up that protect those names, but they are dormant. Those businesses appear to be ‘branches’ of the IRFU.

Reason for arriving at those conclusions? The IRFU accounts. These account for the competition monies for those sides, but unlike the WRU, the outgoings do not go to the four teams, but appear to be spent on players wages (of which more later).

Alongside the rugby sides there, provinces also have Branches that are owned, it seems, by their constituent clubs. The accounts of the branches are not made publically available, but are commented on in the press following AGM report. I have also had a copy of the Leinster Branch Accounts sent to me, which help enormously to understand how professional rugby in Ireland works, and crucially how much money they spend on player wages.

In terms of income, the IRFU appear to account for all the competition monies the 4 provinces get. This totals approximately €11m. The other income of the IRFU appears to derive out of the international game only. Then in schedule 3 to the accounts we are told that player and management costs come to €28.5m. This excludes academy players and coaching support staff (such as U20 coach Mike Ruddock) as they appear to be included in the costs laid out in schedule 4.

So the wage bill for pro players in Ireland is €28.5m, less say €1m for the senior side coaching team.

At the moment in Wales, RRW are asking for £10m between the 4 sides. The four Irish provinces, in 2013 (with similar figures for previous years) received approximately €16.5m over and above competition income. This does give the IRFU MORE control than RRW appear to be happy with, but it does indicate the funding difference.

The remainder of the income for the branch accounts that I have seen for Leinster, states that all other income such as provincial income and ticket monies go through the branch accounts. The Leinster turnover, even without competition monies remember, is over €12m. This is in excess of the top welsh pro team, where competition monies are included.

So if the IRFU pay the players, where does this money go? Well, it seems that the Leinster branch also pay the players (senior ones) to the tune of €2.7m. The coaching staff expense is elsewhere in the accounts.

So, if we stay with Leinster at the moment, if we say the split of the €27.5m between the four provinces is that Connacht get half the other 3. That means that Leinster get the wages of 2/7ths of €27.5m. This is approximately €7.85m. Add in the €2.7m, and you get €10.55m. Or £8.75m. Or more than double the RRW salary cap, and significantly more than the PRL clubs.

I even think it is above the French salary cap.

#foodforthought ’ndy

Conclusions:

1- The Irish provincial sides are not overperforming. They are performing on par with their funding. Maybe even below it.

2- Where the Irish are performing is income generation. The Munster branch turnover is apparently more like €17m.

3- RRW demands for £10m do not seem unreasonable.

4- RRW need to improve their income streams. The WRU should be helping them with this, not hindering them. Part of this would be to empower regions to build relationships with clubs. In Ireland, the branches award significant grants as well as the Union.

5- To make it clear, the Lenister playing wage bill is obviously not £4.1m, Andy. According to official audited accounts.