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Minutes of the Joint Supporters Group meeting with Regional Rugby Wales Sunday 22nd December 2013

Minutes of the Joint Supporters Group meeting with Regional Rugby Wales
Sunday 22nd December 2013

Parc-y-Scarlets, 4pm

Attendees:

Annette Thomas and Mike Phippen from OSC

Dorian Davies, Barrie Jones and Neil Bathgate from Crys 16

Nigel Short, Stuart Gallacher, Mark Davies, Andrew Hore from Regional Rugby Wales
Apologies:

Apologies were received from Cardiff Blues Supporters’ Club, Friends of Newport Rugby, Richard Holland of the Cardiff Blues and Gareth Davies of Dragons.

Minutes:

All present introduced themselves to each other.

AT stated that the supporters’ representatives have a responsibility to their members and the intention was to provide a full update post the meeting. It was confirmed that a copy of the minutes would be send to RRW in advance of general release to ensure that nothing commercially sensitive or inaccurate was reported as had been done with the WRU.

MP asked the RRW representatives if they had seen the minutes from the Supporters Group meeting with the WRU which they confirmed had been provided by the relevant supporters group. It was suggested that RRW provide a response to the points raised at that meeting and recorded in the minutes which was agreed by all present as a basis and structure for the meeting.

DD raised the first point regarding the WRU reference to “vested business interests” and asked if RRW could comment on what interests would be referred to as “vested” ?

MD stated that it was difficult to understand any reference to “vested” in this context given that a small number of investors/benefactors have put over £40m into Welsh Rugby over the last 10 years and questioned where Welsh Rugby would be without that level of subsidy, which no other rugby nation has benefited from. The inference appears to be that there is some unwelcome interest from individuals or businesses, when that has clearly not been the case, beyond any investor clearly needing to protect their investment.

DD asked if RRW agreed that the WRU has always “acted in the best interests of the game”?

MD stated that if so, surely this must have included the creation of the regions in the first place? It is difficult to understand how the only direction that is “in the best interests of Welsh Rugby” , seems to consistently be the Elite National game, rather than the Regions, the Premiership, and particularly the grass roots community club game given the clubs trauma as a result of cuts to their funding. If £2.6m was spent on Millenium Stadium boxes, why not spend £2.5m and restore the Community Clubs grant funding reduced by £100k 2 years ago?

BJ referred to the assertion by RL that a British & Irish league was proposed by RL but rejected by PRL.

In reply, SG referred to the recently published quote from PRL where they refuted that they rejected any such a proposal. SG stated that that he was at a meeting where this was a brief discussion at a lunch break rather than any form of formal proposal from RL.

NB followed on with reference to the question RL posed with respect to the regions having to break existing contractual arrangements to play in an Anglo Welsh competition ? SG stated that the only contract that the Regions have in place is the existing PA. The Regions are a signatory to the existing ERC Accord – which ceases to exist at the end of the season due to the English, French clubs and French federation issuing notice nearly two years ago. The Regions are not a signatory to the Celtic Accord. Therefore no contractual arrangements would be broken by the regions if the PA was not signed.

DD asked if it was true that RL had been invited to attend any discussion regarding the possibility of an Anglo Welsh competition by RRW, as RL had denied this was the case. The group were shown email evidence that a formal invitation was sent to RL. The written invitation also referred to the discussion having taken place at PRGB and this was confirmed by NVS and SG.

NB referred to the WRU statement that no discussions had taken place about a Plan B if Regions don’t sign the PA. He stated that he understood there was a players meeting immediately following the meeting the Supporters had with the WRU at the Millennium Stadium where players were informed that the WRU had actually considered a number of options and would be meeting on January 2nd 2014 to finalise these. MD and AW confirmed that they had been informed of the same.

DD referred to the statement from WG and others that the approach to the players during the Autumn Internationals being ‘a complete and utter lie’.

MD and AW acknowledged that they only had “third party” comment as, having first read references to meetings in the media, they had only been told by players and their agents that the meetings had taken place and obviously not attended themselves. They also explained that in the circumstances they would not expect or ask the players to confirm this due to the impossible situation that would place them in.

In line with the players’ discussion, AG expressed concern regarding the statement by WG that Adam Jones had not yet been offered a contract by Ospreys.

AH provided dated written evidence that showed this was not correct.

MP asked for comment regarding the statement by WG that the proposed “one off” WRU payment of £1 million for International player development, recruitment and retention, would be better used on quality coaches

MD stated that Mark Jones was the backs coach for the 6N winning team, whilst Danny Wilson was the Wales U20 Coach when the team reached the JRWC final. AH stated that the new Ospreys coach was WG no 2 in NZ. Both outlined the investment in World Class

Conditioning & physio set ups at Regions plus huge investment in training facilities & Stadia. NB also referred to an article on BBC online with WG referring to the superior coaching & care facilities in Wales which should contribute to keeping Welsh players playing in Wales.

MP asked for clarity of the PWC report comments and conclusions referred to by RL and SP. The group was shown the actual wording of the PWC quote in the report, which is ; “The Regions have recognised that the financial position in FY11 (financial year 2011) was unsustainable and have taken actions to improve the management and performance of the Regions.”

In addition, “The Regions have implemented cost cutting strategies and the new Management teams appear to be putting a strong emphasis on improving the commercial and marketing activities.”

Finally, “External market forces have also had significant impact, which were difficult for the Management teams to combat without a collaborative approach with the Regions and the WRU.”

NB questioned SP’s assertion that the WRU give £16m to the regions and asked for confirmation that only £6m of this is WRU money. SG confirmed this was the case and that the rest is competition revenue (primarily TV revenues) passed through WRU.

SG further confirmed that the Regions solely carry the cost of competing in those competitions – including £1m cost for travel (flights) across the four, plus over £2.5m on coaching infrastructure which is defined as a requirement within the PA. This is in addition to the Squad cost required to be competitive, including the cost of additional player contracts required to enable the Regions to continue to play when International players are with Team Wales, for a longer period than any other country.

MP made reference to the point that RL suggested that the regions should use WG and the Welsh coaches’ expertise more often and asked if this was something the Regions should take up. The group were shown written requests from one of the regions to the WRU requesting coaching support from mid 2013, along with confirmation that no support had been provided.

In relation to the statement that the Wales team returning the region’s “assets in better shape” SG,MD and AW pointed out that there were more examples of the top players returning from Wales with injuries or fitness issues than without – e.g. Jamie Roberts playing only a handful of games for the Blues before his departure to France and more recently Sam Warburton and Jon Davies. MD stated he would like to understand how that constituted “better shape” and would like some proof.

AT referred to the response to the supporters questions about the 4th Autumn International with the WRU stating that this was at the regions’ request and to support WG vision that ‘beat the best you have to play the best’

SG stated that the Regions received £400k from the Australia International- just £100k each. NB commented that he understood that Australia received £750,000. SG stated that sounded about right and that, including TV revenues , he would estimate that income for the WRU from this would be circa £2.5m – £3m. That’s 80-90% revenue to WRU and 10-15% to the Regions. By contrast in England, RFU agreed 4th International every two years with the revenue split 50:50 between RFU & Clubs. AH and MD stated that the impact of the 4th International timing, the week prior to the Heinekin cup obviously had a fundamental effect on the competitiveness of the Regions in European Competition. MD pointed out that if it is possible to assimilate players back into Regional squads effectively in just a few days, why was it necessary to have such extended player release to ensure the National Team can perform.

NB asked for clarification of the point made by SP regarding distributions for player release. SG stated that this is factually incorrect as the payments purely related to player release monies as defined in the PA are actually distributed based on call up, not equally split as SP had stated. However the other monies – Welsh Qualified Player Incentive, Autumn International, Participation payment are split equitably across the four regions. The direct payment for player release is £1.2m not £6m. A significant element of the remainder is for maintaining a very high level of Welsh Qualified Players in their squads throughout the season – a higher level than other Nations.

AT asked why the Regions believed that the obvious answer of ‘Gatland’s law’ was not being applied. SG and NVS stated that whilst WG has been supportive of this suggestion, with some sensible safeguards, RL Has consistently and formally stated it will not be applied. MD presented dated material that confirms the Regions have included a version of “Gatland’s law” as part of their proposals since May 2012.

AT then asked what the Regions’ view of the point made by DP where he suggested that “pertinent questions” should be asked by supporters of their regions. MD stated that perhaps in the next meeting with WRU DP could be asked to define the pertinent questions he referred to. AH stated that the PWC report cost WRU circa £60k and asked every question possible of the Regions as you would expect from such a reputable organization. MD stated that he was unaware that DP had asked any business question of the Regions at any time and is always welcome to personally review with the Regions Management teams.

NB asked if the WRU were actively involved in running Dragons given their 50% shareholding. SG stated that as far as he was aware the WRU do not attend any Board meetings at Dragons, nor have any involvement in its management.

MP made reference to the statement made by RL and SP that the Regions need to better maximise their income, MD stated that the biggest earner for the WRU was a home game against England every other year where there is no air travel involved. WRU do not sell out Italy, Tonga, Samoa, Argentina, or possibly Scotland. The Regions play teams from Italy, Scotland and Ireland. Eight of the Eleven Home games for the Regions would involve flights for any away supporters travelling to Wales, with almost no service into Cardiff and very little into Bristol. This results in the Regions enjoying no away support at all. In addition, whilst the WRU has the ability to market their games 6 -12 months ahead with confirmed kick off times, the Regions have only 3 weeks at the start of the season and 3 weeks for the second half, with no consistency of KO time at all. This point was strongly acknowledged by all supporters as a huge factor from their own experiences.

Currently, the Regions cannot currently confirm or sell next seasons games as they have no knowledge of competitions for next year; they cannot confirm ANY sponsor revenue for next season – games & TV – as the competitions are yet to be defined.

The group were shown that RRW have raised all of these points to the WRU with no response.

With reference to the point raised by SP that 12,000 attendees are required at each game, MD and AH stated that this was at best disingenuous as it did not take any account of the many factors impacting on attendance:

  • Local populations at a fraction of Irish provinces or Scottish, English, French and even Italian teams
  • The difficult economic and employment situation in Wales
  • The short notice and confirmation of kick offs and inconsistent days and times
  • No away support due to air travel and the difficulty of access to Wales
  • Dragons & Blues do not have 12,000 capacity

Even if 4000 extra/Region/16 home games x £15 were possible – that would amount to £3.8m TOTAL across all 4 Regions – a fraction of the anticipated 80 – 100 Million Euro or the French Clubs’ TV deal.

AT confirmed that as stated at the start of the meeting the supporters representatives have a responsibility to their members and the intention was to provide a full update post the meeting.

AT thanked the RRW for their time and urged them to continue to talk to supporters. RRW encouraged the supporters to ask them any questions to ensure that they understood the full picture.