Welsh rugby has recently experienced a number of vital revolutions that have changed the way the professional game will be played, administered and financed from now on. A man called Moffett came to Wales as WRU Chief Executive as the dire financial situation of the Union forced the banks to intervene. On their insistence, a professional administrator was brought in to control spending and to restructure the whole game in order to ensure its financial survival. Moffett came with a recent background in sports administration with time spent in Australia, New Zealand and England and was an obvious choice from the short list of applicants for the £200,000 a year post (rumoured to be tax free).
So, what did we – the fee paying fans of Welsh rugby – get for the same money that it takes to run the ‘A’ team per season? Well, for a start, we had a number of cuts (including the ‘A’ team) that we were told were necessary to keep the overdraft from toppling over its £10m limit. Further cuts were made to Development Officers and other grass roots programmes, but the loss of these was tempered by the ridding of the privileged of the General Committee. Even before Moffett’s arrival the bank had prevented the huge numbers of freeloaders taking trips to follow the National team, but Moffett had now formalised these. Cuts even extended to player’s salaries and the free post match reception tickets for their family members, but all these were necessary as that overdraft limit loomed.
These changes were all small fry when compared to Moffett’s plans for ON FIELD changes. Within days of his arrival he had suggested using Cobner’s old regional plan for professional rugby in Wales whereby the Union, i.e. his bosses that make up the General Committee (which was soon to be named “Executive Board” despite having the same members), would have total control of the game from player’s contracts through to administration. All those millions pumped into the game, at the bequest of the Union at times, was to be written off without a care as the seven year power struggle between clubs and the Union was to come to a head. Unfortunately for Moffett, his bargaining positions were seriously weakened by the previous actions of his bosses on the General Committee who all have Professorships in “Shooting Welsh Rugby in the Foot”.
Moffett could not win central contracts or even Union control of the game, but he did force the junior clubs into realising that they could no longer compete in the professional game as stand alone clubs, so the compromise reached was joint ventures for some and stand alone status for those strong or brave enough to go it alone. Unfortunately, this compromise was only reached after a series of legal threats and very public arguments made through the Welsh press as tempers were frayed and the Green monster of jealously abounded.
BUT – he did it. Moffett, within 6 months of his arrival, had persuaded the professional teams to restructure for the benefit of themselves, the overdraft and the £70m loan that hangs over the stadium. Soon the spin was put on that this was regional rugby, all for the benefit of the grass roots where the new ventures (or newcos) would be centres of excellence for the junior teams. This was to appease those of the 230 amateur clubs who voted to kill off the other 9 clubs as professional entities in a show of ignorance and jealousy that could only work in Wales. However, we were there . . . . .
Now it was down to the clubs to sort themselves out with new Boards of Directors, playing squads and administration staff. Oh . . and, of course, the names of each team.
This is where Moffett went wrong.
At the time of the agreement made between all parties around the table of Professional Welsh Rugby we still had weeks of rugby to play in what became a meaningless season. Now was the perfect time to canvass the opinion of the fans on the most important part of the whole structure – the names of the teams. When two parties combine for a new venture it is vital to keep on board all the existing customers whilst striving to attract more but how could those presently involved feel included in the new venture? Some hard line fans were not interested in “merging” for professional rugby, preferring to watch their own Village team play in the new Pentref Premiership. Many more were intrigued and realised the necessity for financial survival was this new set up, but ALL wanted to be included.
Existing season ticket holders, members and shareholders of the “merging” teams should have been consulted at each and every remaining game to find a consensus for the name of each team. All fans would have realised that budgets would control the playing squad and most recognised that the coaching candidate for each venture was fairly obvious. All would have recognised that playing games at each venue would have led to inclusiveness so the only remaining problem was the name . . . .
So, just as Welsh rugby is fighting to maintain its own dwindling customer base let alone trying to build on it, Moffett goes on holiday and leaves the squabbling clubs to fight amongst themselves!
Newport and Ebbw Vale have created so much animosity amongst the fans that even local MPs and AMs are getting involved. All the noises from Neath and Swansea are coming from the Gnoll as Swansea fans watch good players move to other ventures and clubs. Pontypridd and Bridgend have even cancelled one name because their fans were in uproar!
So, Mr David Moffett, you blew it. You could have insisted on a small marketing budget to be given to each team to consult the fans on what they wanted, but us fee paying fans seem to be a little way down your list of priorities. No matter how many posts you make on fans websites, your record shows you as half a job Bob.