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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.

Che_Guevara

Rugby clubs of Wales unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

The pressure on the Welsh Rugby Union continues to grow. The silence from Roger Lewis and David Pickering is deafening. Yesterday, the Welsh Rugby Union decided to cancel a meeting with Regional Rugby Wales. This was the much-trumpeted meeting between RRW and the “full board” of the WRU. So much for that. What are the WRU scared of?

In the next few days, disgruntled Welsh rugby clubs, the owners of the WRU who are the lifeblood of our national game, will be writing to the WRU to call for an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM). They have had enough of the autocratic dictatorship and incompetence of our sport’s governing body.

Here’s what they’re going to be saying:

“In accordance with Clause 30 of the articles of association we hereby serve notice that we, the undersigned, request that you proceed to convene and hold an extraordinary general meeting of the Company and in accordance with the aforesaid articles, to vote on the following motion:

That the WRU have not been acting in the best interests of Welsh Rugby and in particular the 320 clubs who are the members of the WRU. Specifically the Chairman and Board of the WRU have either deliberately or by oversight allowed the following to occur:

  1. The CEO and the Executive to confirm the Leagues for season 2014/15. The new league structure was decided with no direct input from clubs. In recent meetings with the Districts the WRU was informed that the new league structure was unacceptable. The Executive have ignored the clubs and have not provided a viable alternative. To date clubs have not been directly informed by the WRU of their intentions
  2. The CEO and Executive to continue paying down debt at a rate that is detrimental to the clubs.
  3. The CEO and Executive to allow the cost of tickets and management of the ticketing office to spiral out of control.
  4. The CEO and Executive to operate without a proper business and strategic plan that has been communicated in full to all stakeholders.
  5. The CEO and Executive to withhold urgently needed funding to all levels of the game despite reporting £11million in Reserves in FY2013.
  6. Despite a promise from the Chairman, CEO and President to provide the facts to contradict a ‘scurrilous’ and inaccurate financial expose by a former WRU Group CEO David Moffett, they have not done so.
  7. Since 2007 the CEO and Executive have failed to recognise the urgent need to evolve the Professional, Semi Professional and Community games in line with best practice.
  8. The Board, have themselves, not followed best practice as recommended by the UK Government and the Board of WRU is not fit for purpose.
  9. Despite a document entitled A Manifesto for Change provided to all clubs by former WRU Group CEO, David Moffett, and numerous attempts by him to contact the Chairman, the WRU has ignored its existence whilst belatedly announcing identical strategies many weeks after its release.

We demand that at the EGM the WRU Chairman answer these and related questions. Further, we would like you to note that Mr David Moffett will be present at the EGM and will be presenting the case for a vote of no confidence on our behalf.

At the end of the meeting we will call for a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the Chairman and Board of the WRU [and Millennium Stadium] if, in the opinion of the members present they do not provide honest and truthful and/or acceptable answers to these questions.

If such a vote is called for and successful, the members will proceed to install an Interim Board in accordance with Article 56 of the Company’s articles of association to manage the WRU’s affairs until the members are able to elect a new Board.”

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Leinster A Changes Name to ‘Leinster B’ Ahead of Sardis Road Clash

Pontypridd’s treble challenge is all but over with the devastating news that British & Irish Cup semi-final opponents Leinster A have changed their name to Leinster B.  Under a little known tournament directive brought in by the IRFU, this disqualifies the semi-pro team on grounds of indecency, compelling double Heineken Cup champions and current Pro12 league leaders Leinster to take up the tie.

“Typical – we expected them to bring in a couple of ringers but to change the entire team is taking the piss!” claimed Ponty coach Geraint Lewis.  “They’ve got 1,052 caps across their side, and that’s not even counting any of the South Africans.  We had a few ringers planned as well mind, but I may as well phone Pete and Rob Sidoli right now and tell ‘em not to bother…”

“This administrative oversight is very unfortunate and we can’t understand how it might have happened or who could have been motivated to make such a mistake,” said County Kildare, a Leinster spokesperson.  “Tournament regulations for such a heinous offence set the penalty at 1 Euro, but I think we’re likely to appeal it.”

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Peace in our time?

So the telly deal is done. One of the biggest sticking points in the unholy European rugby war has been resolved. Sky and BT will share the rights to the new, improved “European Rugby Champions Cup.”

It’s been an unnecessarily painful birth. The single most important issue has always been money, and who controls it. We always knew the answer, of course: television. And now the disagreement between Sky and BT is resolved, we have a way forward.

So if the answer was so simple and obvious, why has it taken so long to get to this point? It’s been over two years now since the English and French clubs served notice of their intention to abandon the old European Cup.

It’s important to note at this point that England and France are the countries where the money comes from: that’s where the majority of the chimney pots (and satellite dishes) are located. As I said last week, us Welsh are just spectators at this rugby feast, and we’re not the ones picking up the tab.

The French and English clubs are calling the tune, as they always have done throughout this long and drawn-out process. Now, finally, they’ve got what they want. A fairer share of tournament money and representation.

The important point is that it is now rugby clubs, and not unions, who are in control. But were all the unions digging their heels in? No. It was just the Irish (IRFU) and Welsh (WRU) governing bodies who were, as late as January this year, still clinging to the old order. They’ve failed in their attempt to retain control of the professional game in Europe. It’s quite clear that they’ve annoyed the hell out of their negotiating partners in England into the bargain. “It’s time for the egos and blazers to get out of the way, and leave the business to real businessmen,” has been the clear message from the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

Why would the IRFU and WRU be opposed to the new deal? Well, for the Irish it’s quite clear. They’ve brought very little to the table in terms of TV money and have enjoyed more than their fair share of the proceeds of European rugby. The WRU take the money from TV deals, and pass it straight on to the Welsh regions, who then use it to pay the players they’ve developed and supplied to “Team Wales.” Incidentally, the WRU still declare this money (several million pounds a year) as revenue on their balance sheet, even though it’s questionable as to what they’ve contributed to the generation of that revenue.

“So what?” you might ask. Surely the deal is done, and we can go back to watching the battles on the pitch? Not quite. There’s still the significant matter of the lack of any agreement between the WRU and the regions (RRW) over participation in competitions and the supply of players to Team Wales. That’s quite a big obstacle to get over, especially when the regions are on record as having little or no confidence in Roger Lewis, the WRU CEO and his colleagues.

There is also another challenge hoving into view: the spectre of former WRU CEO David Moffett, who has returned to Wales to mount a challenge to the WRU Chairman David Pickering. Moffett’s aim is to reform the WRU and replace the current board and executive with people who might be able to do a better job of doing a deal with the regions. He’s also very keen on semi-pro and community rugby in Wales getting their fair share of the cash which is sitting the WRU’s coffers. Nobody can argue with that noble aim. Good luck to him.

Whatever you might think of Moffett and his record when he was in the job, he has managed to provoke much-needed debate on the way in which the WRU operates, and the behaviour of the people who run it.

It is quite clear to many of those who have been party to the discussions (if you can call them that) between the WRU and RRW, that a solution to this Welsh problem would be reached very quickly if we could get rid of the egos, vested interests and incompetence at the top of the WRU. If Moffett succeeds in securing that change, then we will have a lot to thank him for.

This crisis is not just about the WRU. During the course of the last few months, the mainstream media in Wales have failed to hold the WRU to account. Of course, the Western Mail have no obligation to provide a balanced view of the issues, but their journalists could at least make an effort to practise their trade competently. Instead, the self-styled “National Newspaper of Wales” has resorted to regurgitating WRU press releases and speculating as to which Team Wales player will be next to sign a central contract with the WRU.  This is not journalism by any stretch of the imagination. It is public relations. The Western Mail now relies upon access to Team Wales in order to fill its pages in print and online. It doesn’t matter how superficial the story is, as long as people click on it, the paper will creep along with a tiny trickle of advertising revenue, staving off the inevitable for a little longer.

BBC Wales, on the other hand, has quite clear obligations, which it has totally failed to meet in its treatment of the crisis in Welsh rugby. We know very well that the BBC and WRU are business partners;  parties to the TV deal which sustains them both. If it wasn’t for the access to “Team Wales” that this partnership affords BBC Wales, there would be hardly anything left of the corporation in Wales. Look at ITV Wales if you want to know what a rugby-less BBC Wales might look like. The WRU are fond of the BBC because they are a free and unquestioning PR department who will say (or more often, not say) whatever the WRU tell them to.

In the absence of proper media analysis and journalism in the mainstream, it has fallen to the likes of Gwladrugby.com and others on social media, as well as the London press, to hold the WRU to account. Whenever this unedifying episode does finally end, we will be left wondering whether the problems in Welsh rugby would’ve been sorted out a lot more quickly if our national media had demonstrated a bit of backbone and basic journalistic skills.

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Reading between the lies

So, another worrying turn in the continuing battle between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four organisations it still seems intent on bringing to heel – the professional teams represented collectively by Regional Rugby Wales (RRW). Weeks of quiet on the thorny issue of central contracts are threatening to spark into life over the WRUs apparent decision to compete with the Ospreys for the signature of tight-head prop Adam Jones. 

The four professional teams have long stated that they have agreed that,

The Regions will only play centrally contracted players on collective agreement between all four Regions – as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.”

Their united opposition to central contracts would remain unless the concept formed “part of a clear and proper strategy and agreed framework to achieve long-term solutions for player retention in Wales; and guard against any quick fix, ad-hoc action.”

So when Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton signed a central contract with the WRU on 25 January , on the apparent understanding that he would be placed with his home team the Cardiff Blues, it raised the odd eyebrow.

Defending his decision to put the WRU in direct competition with a Welsh region for the signature of the Welsh captain, WRU CEO Roger Lewis suggested RRW’s opposition to central contracts was nothing more than a bit of playing to the gallery.

He stated, pretty explicitly, that the four professional teams had approached him and said,

“They were unable to contract six players. They needed assistance and help with Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton. That’s where it all began and then when the participation agreement wasn’t signed by December 31st we put our minds to it… and thought how on earth can we keep players in Wales?”

Lewis claimed that his hand had been forced by Leigh Halfpenny’s decision to leave Wales altogether and sign for Toulon. Warburton’s agent, Derwyn Jones, was wheeled out to hint that the WRU hadn’t competed with Cardiff at all, but had actually saved Warburton for the nation.

Apparently, the WRU’s offer of a contract led the national captain to

Twice rejecting £700,000-a-year offers from big-spending French clubs. It’s understood he had already turned down one such bid from Stade Francais and last week he rejected another from Toulon after the European champions came back in for him.”

All very laudable, I’m sure. Much of the recent success of the national team has been built on a Partnership Agreement which has kept the bulk of Wales’ international class players at home, and provided national team coach Warren Gatland with access to these players in excess of anything afforded most of his equivalents in the northern hemisphere. Nobody would corroborate Derwyn’s story, obviously, and nobody dug too deeply into it.

Then Scott Williams, Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Priestland signed for their Regions, rejecting the WRU’s central contracts. Everything pointed to Adam Jones, the last of the six, signing for the Ospreys. Then it all went quiet. A person who is (astonishingly enough) employed by the Western Mail started talking about Jones signing a central contract and playing for the Dragons. Their coach Lyn Jones, a reliable source whenever stories of Ospreys players signing for the Dragons rear their heads, said yesterday that Adam was very close to signing a central contract as negotiations with the Ospreys had “stalled.”

Today (9 April), Adam Jones’ region, the Ospreys, spoke to the Evening Post. The region’s Chief Executive Andrew Hore accused the WRU of

“Continuing to negotiate with Adam Jones and breaking a pledge that they would not compete with them for his signature. We received email confirmation from the Welsh Rugby Union on February 12 that they would not compete with us to sign Adam.”

“We subsequently discovered they were continuing to negotiate with him and have offered him considerably more.”

So that would seem to be pretty clear. The WRU have maybe been less than honest. Perhaps. Well, who knows. I trust them implicitly, of course, but others might not.

Interestingly, and hilariously, Wales’ foremost fearless purveyor of facts (given to him by the WRU) Andy Howell has started pushing a line that I confess to having missed: Wales coach Warren Gatland paved the way for the WRU competing with the Regions last December:

“What happens to players who are not wanted by the Regions and go to France or England but who are good enough for the national team? Do you just discard them? There needs to be a separate group of people who decide on what a fair market value is for players so they aren’t taken advantage of by the Regions potentially offering them, say £100,000 less because they know that player is desperate to play for Wales and doesn’t want to leave the country because he knows he won’t be selected.”

Never one to miss out on an opportunity for a spot of shameless toadying, Howell piles in:

“Say, for example, the Ospreys were only offering Adam £100,000 a year because they knew he was intent on staying in Wales, would it be fair? Not in my opinion because he’s clearly worth much more. I agree with Gatland, an independent panel would need to be formed to decide the market value of players if Gatland’s law was to be enforced, which I believe it should.” 

If the general narrative of today’s shambles is to be believed, it looks as though that independent panel has been formed. I wonder who’s on it? Whatever, we at least know that the six players weren’t wanted by their Regions, despite three of them rejecting central contracts and, er… signing for those Regions.

So it seems that, contrary to an email sent by the WRU to the Ospreys in February, the WRU (or an independent panel, natch) have decided that it’s perfectly acceptable to muscle in and compete with Welsh Regions for players.

The question we should be asking is, “Why?”

Why is it acceptable for the WRU to compete with Welsh Regions for players? What purpose does it serve? I suppose the WRU would argue that keeps players in Wales. Except it doesn’t, really, because it seems likely that both Sam Warburton and Adam Jones would have stayed here anyway.

Does it make better use of the game’s finances? No, because the WRUs actions are driving up the cost of Welsh players, and it’s costing nobody but themselves, the Regions and the Welsh game at large. But it is a handy little wedge which can be used to annoy the Regions and maybe create a few divisions.

It is irresponsible, it is underhand, it is duplicitous. In short, it is entirely consistent with the behaviour of the WRU and Roger Lewis. We are fools for expecting anything better.

 

 

David Moffett, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union

“Moffesto” launched: former CEO lays out his agenda for change

Today former WRU CEO David Moffett has launched the manifesto which forms part of his bid to gain a place on the WRU board.  Moffett chose the Castle Hotel in Neath as the location for the official launch of his campaign. That choice isn’t a coincidence: the Castle Hotel is where the WRU was founded in March 1881.

Entitled, “One Wales – Building a sustainable future together”, the detailed document describes his vision to re-unite Welsh rugby.

Moffett says it’s time for change in Welsh rugby as the game in Wales faces a number of difficult decisions:

“Welsh Rugby stands at the crossroads and needs to decide which path it wants to take for the future. Under the current regime the idea of ONE WALES is as far from reality as is possible. The clubs are so removed from the WRU that they have become increasingly insular in outlook.

For the first time in Welsh Rugby history a candidate for election to the position of Chairman is releasing a comprehensive Manifesto, on which Welsh Rugby can decide.

With the release of my Manifesto the choices are very, very clear.

Either continue with the current dictatorial, undemocratic approach which has disenfranchised the community game or adopt a system which owes much to the past when the clubs had more say in the way the WRU is run.

The latter path is my vision for Welsh Rugby; the former has no place in a democratic union of clubs.

My Manifesto sets out what I would like to achieve in the next 3 years:

  1. The resurrection of the Community Game
  2. A partnership to secure and grow the Professional and Semi-Professional Games
  3. The restructuring of the Governance of the WRU
  4. A complete review of the financial performance of the WRU

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I am fully prepared to take on board additional suggestions and constructive feedback to build on my initial proposals.

Playing my part

If the clubs endorse my Manifesto and believe that my strategic plan is what Welsh rugby needs, I intend to do everything I can to represent them as the WRU’s first independent chairman.

There is a better way of doing things, not just for the national team, but also for every aspect and tier of Welsh rugby. Welsh clubs are special; they have been overlooked for too long and it’s time for change.”

There are a number of key recommendations in the manifesto which Moffett says are necessary in order to realise his vision for change:

“The following summarises the key important recommendations I believe will provide Welsh Rugby with the strongest platform for sustainable growth. These points will be outlined in more detail in the pages that follow.

  • ‘Local solutions for local problems’ within the Community Game – a radical change in the relationship between the WRU and its member clubs
  • Replacement of the district representation system with five Regional Rugby Boards
  • Devolution of power back to the clubs
  • £1.5M immediately available to fund club Infrastructure grants, to be administered by the Regional Rugby Boards
  • An additional £2M to be made available to supplement Government funding in the crucial area of increasing participation
  • New 4G pitches prioritised for mini, junior, schools & youth rugby in every region
  • WRU Ambassadors to sponsor new advisory groups to design radical new approaches for age-grade rugby, Rugby 7s, women’s rugby, match officials and medical support
  • Support for Premiership and Championship clubs to identify & implement the key reforms, appropriate competition structures and financial support that they need
  • New Combined Player Contracts to be negotiated on a basis that benefits the WRU, the professional teams and the players. A unique opportunity exists to set a new benchmark in the increasingly difficult world market for players & coaches.
  • Five-year rolling franchise deals for professional teams
  • Expansion of the number of professional teams to be formally considered
  • Chairman’s Special Advisory Group to be set up to recommend a new approach for the Welsh language across Welsh Rugby
  • Reform of the WRU Board, including the appointment of an Independent Chairman, and the commitment to set a target number of Board positions to be held by women by 2020
  • Immediate external review of the financial position of the WRU
  • Sale of Millennium Stadium naming rights
  • Reduction in non-essential Board and Executive costs
  • Accountability at all levels of Welsh Rugby.”

You can read the document in full here:

One Wales – a Manifesto for Welsh Rugby by David Moffett

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