What / who is Cardiff / the Blues / Cardiff Blues / Blues?

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An identity crisis can be caused by many things, not least by forgetting who you are, how you got to where you are and what your name is. Your position can be worsened by giving yourself multiple names, multiple identities and by trying to appease to all of the people all of the time. That approach, as we know, never works. The best way to progress is to be true to yourself and stand or fall on those terms.

We have such a crisis in the Eastern half of professional rugby in Wales. It’s not the same in the Western half as the pair down there have it spot on: the Scarlets have carried forward their own club’s nickname that has been in used for decades and are proud of the heritage that has allowed them to grow into today’s outfit, whereas the Ospreys are a team named after the bird on the Swansea RFC club badge, owned 75%+ by the chaps who owned Swansea RFC in 2003, playing in Swansea but confident in their new ‘Ospreylian’ identity. And, let’s be fair, it works for both of them very well. Each have attracted new investment and each is (most importantly) secure in its identity, even though the average crowd of the Ospreys since 2003 is pretty much identical to that of Cardiff’s.

Or is that Blues, the Blues or Cardiff Blues? Well, to fully understand what it is then you have to look at how it has arrived at what it is today, where it’s come from and where it lives. And then remind yourself of what supportive chant rings around the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on the rare occasions that the home team does something positive.

Those presently marketing Cardiff Blues will tell you the Blues were 10 years old in 2013, having been formed in 2003. In one regard, they’d be right to note that but it does rather ignore the birthing process. Therefore, to 2003 we go.

We had 9 ‘professional’ clubs in Wales, in the sense that they paid players to play rugby, but the professional game was leaving these clubs behind simply because of money. After the Rebel Season of the late 90s, it was obvious to all that change was needed in the Welsh game so a Kenyan / Englishman / Australian / Kiwi called Moffett was hired by the then technically bankrupt WRU to force change. The WRU wanted 4 teams, the then 8 clubs (as Caerphilly had left negotiations) wanted to go into 5 teams – three mergers and two ‘standalones’, who would each forgo over £1m in payments to maintain their status. Who were those 2? Llanelli (i.e. the Scarlets, see above for their branding) and Cardiff.

Cardiff were the first of the 5 to launch their new brand (key word, brand) in July 2003. Our club, the standalone, was to have a new brand to run a ‘rugby region’: Cardiff Blues

The responsibility of the club towards this ‘region’ wasn’t immediately apparent as the Moffett inspired events of 2003 were very rushed but, over time, things became a little more clear. The club was to have the local responsibility of the development of the game through the clubs most local to it and the split of the clubs between the now 5 teams meant that Cardiff was to look after all of the junior clubs in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

This cosy plan took a little derail when, in just September 2003 so one month into the new season, Pontypridd RFC went into administration. It couldn’t keep up its financial commitment to the team it then owned 50% of – Celtic Warriors. In fact, it was Celtic Warriors who loaned Pontypridd RFC money that summer to pay wages so it should have been obvious to all that Pontypridd RFC should have acted as Caerphilly had done by stepping away from the professional game. It couldn’t meet its commitments.

That loss of the Pontypridd 50% share in the Celtic Warriors meant that the WRU went into bed with Bridgend RFC (through Leighton Samuel). This was never going to work, however, and the WRU bought out Samuel at the end of that season and shut down the Celtic Warriors. This meant that the local clubs under that development plan were to be shared equally between Cardiff Blues and the then Neath-Swansea Ospreys.

The crucial part to note here is that nothing actually changed at Cardiff Blues because of the loss of the Celtic Warriors, other than the fact that the club paid £312,500 to the WRU for the WRU to be able to afford Samuel’s charge for his 50%. That season, such was the fact that a standalone club was what Cardiff Blues were, the jerseys of the first team were the change jerseys from the previous season with the new branded badge simply sewn over the old Cardiff RFC badge.

So that’s the birth of Cardiff Blues. It’s just a brand of Cardiff RFC, owned by 100% by Cardiff RFC as it is a standalone club, designated to developing rugby locally. Both brands – Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues – are managed by the same company (now named Cardiff Blues Ltd, but previously Cardiff RFC ltd, to appease the terms of the latest Rugby Services Agreement with the WRU). Nothing changed, nothing has changed – other than a new Director has taken a seat on the board (Martyn Ryan) by buying £500,000 worth of shares.

If we fast forward to 2015, through two Roger Lewis contracts and another Moffett resurrection, has anything actually changed from June 2003 before the launch of the new brand? No. Nothing at all. The structure of the club is exactly the same internally as it was then. The external change is that the club is now also a ‘Regional Organisation’ member of the WRU – so it now has double the votes at EGMs / AGMs. Plus, let’s not forget, the club barely survived the easily predicted disastrous ‘rental’ of the Cardiff City soccer stadium.

To answer the question, therefore, Cardiff Blues is the professional brand of Cardiff RFC. A new brand, definitely, but one yet to hit the heights of the ‘old brand’. Those ticket buying supporters of the team will go to Cardiff Arms Park, either through the Gwyn Nicholls gates or past the clubhouse which houses countless pictures of Cardiff RFC legends, to watch their team play at what is undeniably the home of Cardiff Rugby. The team is called Cardiff, plays in Cardiff, in original (Cambridge-ish Blue and Oxford-ish Blue, for the second ever version of the club’s playing kit from the 1890s was based on the University colours) Cardiff colours, owned by Cardiff and with a crowd that chants Cardiff.

Which obviously leads us to question why there is ever the need for ‘the Blues’ or ‘Blues’ at all. Few, if any, in Welsh rugby will be unaware of what the organisation of Cardiff Blues actually is. Few who understand their Welsh rugby history will be unaware of the flow of players to Cardiff over the years from all over Wales and further. Fewer still will be fooled into thinking that this is anything other than the modern version of Cardiff RFC. Those who are new to the game, or who previously supported a rival to Cardiff RFC, will arrive at Cardiff Arms Park to be surrounded by images of Cardiff Rugby past and present, interlinked seamlessly, all showing the message of ‘this is Cardiff Rugby’.

So, for us, now is the time for honesty. Now is the time to recognise that this is truly Cardiff Rugby and to drop any marketing suggestion of otherwise. The reach of support for Cardiff has always been well outside of the city so the notion that this move will alienate support in any kind of relevant numbers is naive and misplaced. Nobody is alienated by Cardiff Rugby, unless they are a supporter of a rival team and, if we are honest, the number who qualify for that group is dwarfed by the untapped potential of the brand Cardiff. This, of course, applies more so to Corporate Sponsors than it does to the retail punter who will mostly get his fix through the free to air TV coverage.

Now is the time for the club to market itself outside of the Arms Park as it does inside it – as a continuation of Cardiff RFC. The history of Cardiff RFC needs to be recognised on the website, the marketing of the club needs to include Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Neil Jenkins and so many others to show that this is a club with history, roots and a past worth celebrating.

Cardiff need to follow the example of the Scarlets (the nickname of Llanelli RFC for decades). They are a continuation of the ‘old’ brand and the new brand of Cardiff Blues is Cardiff RFC writ large. The global recognition of Cardiff Rugby, with its association with the National Stadium and with famous past players, should be a Marketeer’s dream, it should be a Golden Ticket to a PR company.

Everybody in Wales knows what is ‘Cardiff Blues / Blues / the Blues’ so now should be the time for the club to drive itself forward with all of the tools it has to its disposal. After all, even our friends still living at the Cardiff City stadium have recognised ‘our City is Blue’.

 

 

Cardiff’s Finances

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First, some history

Cardiff Rugby Football Club was established in 1876 as the rugby section of Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC) and remained in that set up until the advent of professionalism. CAC also has bowls, hockey and cricket sections. The rugby section played their first games at Sophia Gardens, just a short trip up stream from their eventual home at The Arms Park. During this long history they enjoyed regular fixtures against southern hemisphere international touring sides and defeated New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. They have a much better record against Australia than Warren Gatland, remaining unbeaten in six matches until 2009 when (playing under the brand Cardiff Blues) they were comfortably beaten by the Qantas Wallabies (see page 35 here).

With the advent of professional rugby, CAC’s rugby section was transferred to Cardiff RFC Ltd. The club continued to shine and lost narrowly in the first ever European Cup final to Toulouse at the National Stadium. The 1995-6 season saw the first major investments by Peter Thomas, and entrepreneur originally from Merthyr who had made his fortune in confectionary.

Stagnation in Welsh rugby, and a failure by the WRU to recognise that it is the club game where growth is set to accelerate, saw an unbeaten Rebel Season, featuring games against all the top English clubs. But the WRU failed to embrace the offer of an Anglo-Welsh league and the opportunity was lost.

Relationship with the Cardiff Athletic Club

CAC are owners of the land on which Cardiff Arms Park is situated. They do so under a convenant originally set up by the Marquis of Bute which authorises the land to be used for sporting purposes.

In 1997 CAC acquired £500,000 Ordinary £1 Shares in the capital of Cardiff Rugby Football Club Ltd. – the company set up to run professional rugby at CAP. CAC also own of 750,000 Heritage Shares which cannot be traded or sold, taking their total shareholding of £1,250,000. This entitles CAC to appoint 3 Non-Executive Directors to the Management Board of the Cardiff RFC Ltd (renamed Cardiff Blues Ltd in November last year).

Who owns Cardiff?

Peter Thomas : 1,062,000

CAC (Heritage Shares): 750,000

CAC (Ordinary Shares):  500,000

Martin Ryan: 500,000

Paul Bailey: 500,000

John Smart: 500,000

Simon Webber: 20,000

Gareth Edwards: 5,000

Others (non-board members): 698,202

Total Shareholder Value: 4,035,202

 

Who runs Cardiff?

Peter ThomasPeter Thomas is a multi-millionaire who originally built his fortune with Peter’s Pies in Caerphilly. The 72 year-old went on to sell the company for £95m in 1988, and he moved into property with the creation of Atlantic Properties. Back in 2012, his family featured on the Sunday Times rich list, with wealth estimated at £225m.

Simon WebberSimon Webber is a 53 year old with multiple directorships in 21 active companies. His roles are mainly in the food and confectionary industry and he is based in England. He was appointed as a director at Cardiff on 22 November 2004. Webber is a barrister by trade.

Paul Bailey70 year old Paul Bailey is chairman of the Bailey Group, a property company. He amassed his wealth through various property deals, working closely with Peter Thomas and his brother Stan. His estimated worth is around £75m. Bailey’s money has provided loans to keep Cardiff afloat.

Gareth EdwardsGareth Edwards is the greatest scrum half ever to have played the game of rugby union. The 68 year old was appointed as Director in May 2003. His major role at the club is to act as a recruiting agent and scout. When recruiting overseas, his name opens all doors – a wise appointment for the organisation.

John SmartJohn Smart is a property developer and owner of JR Smart Ltd. Reputedly worth close to £100m. Smart by name and nature, he has been a constant thorn in Peter Thomas’ side. The two do not see eye to eye on the running of the club. In recent years, Smart has taken a back seat and seems reluctant to get involved in day to day affairs.

Martin Ryan57 year-old Martin Ryan was appointed a director in August 2014 and immediately invested £500,000 in the club. He still chairman of London Welsh Exiles. He is an extremely successful and well educated businessman. Ryan’s money – along with a loan from Bailey – bought the new pitch at CAP.

Richard HollandRichard Holland is a former vice-president of corporate relations and sales at Celtic Manor. He joined Cardiff following a stint as boss at Chepstow racecourse. The 42 year-old was appointed as CEO in January 2012, taking over from Robert Norster. His grandfather captained for Cardiff in the 1932/33 season.

Keith MorganKeith Morgan is a chartered accountant by trade. The 65 year old is an ex-chairman of CAC and also head of its rugby section. He is also Vice Chairman of the Rags. Each CAC representative serves for a three year term. Any replacements have to be approved by the CAC Management Committee.

Christopher NottChristopher Nott is a 56 year-old lawyer and non-executive director at the Cardiff Blues Ltd. Nott is one of the directors appointed by the CAC. A commercial lawyer, he is a managing partner at Capital Law – which employs 13 litigation lawyers and handles business in the £100ms.

John Huw WilliamsJohn Huw Williams was appointed as a board member in December 2014. He is the third representative from CAC and replaced Malcolm Childs. Williams is the present chairman of CAC and played over 100 games for Cardiff.

John Feehan and the Pro12

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A recent interview with Pro12 head John Feehan, made a number of claims relating to the Pro12. We take a look at one of them, namely that “significantly more people attended the matches this season than last season”.

Unsurprisingly for an Irishman based in Dublin, his views are very much coloured by what is happening in his own geography.

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Glasgow’s success on the pitch this season has seen record numbers at Scottish grounds[1. All the data used to compile this article is taken directly from the Pro12 web site (or previous iterations of this web site).]. Significantly more people attended matches in Scotland – a 16% increase[2. The authors make no claim as to the voracity of this data.] on last season.

It was also a record for the Irish with 567,052 people attending Pro12 games .

However, things are very different in Italy. Putting aside the discussion on non-payment of €1.5m[3. There’s a lack of clarity on the exact amount involved. Some press reports quote FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi, claiming that “The (previous) €3million fee has been reduced to less than a third … it’s a huge victory”, whereas other press outlets claiming the figure is €1.5m] this past season has seen the second lowest attendance at Pro12 fixtures in Italy. In the first season of Italian representation in the league, over 83,000 people watched league games in Italy. In the 2014-15 season, almost 20,000 fewer people watched Pro12 games.

At this point, it may be a good idea to ask why John Feehan ignore these facts, or is it that he is simply unaware of the failure of Pro12 to grow the game in Italy?

Finally, let’s take a look at the Welsh clubs.

In the stands ….

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Pro12 attendance in Wales increased to is 353,248 – a growth of 22,151 on last season. A large chunk of this is down to the increased success of Judgement Day – which we’ve already covered elsewhere. This is a 7% increase on last season. However, it is actually less than two season’s ago when the total home attendances topped 359,000. From a Welsh perspective we think Mr Feehan is over-cooking the turkey somewhat.

Let’s look at how each club fared.

Cardiff Blues

Cardiff Blues

Despite the product on offer, despite the losses, despite the poor performances, Cardiff retained their title the best supported rugby club in Wales. That really is a remarkable fact. Hard work off the pitch in marketing the “Blues” brand seems to be paying off. Attendances are up when one would expect them to be down.

An average of 8,863 attended fixtures at CAP (and the double header at the Millennium Stadium[4. Double header attendances are split in two for analysis purposes.]). This represented an almost 10% increase on Pro12 attendances on last season. There is still some way to go to reach the heady days of 10,000+ as an average gate reported when the club played at the soccer stadium, but the overall trend us up from the 2010-11 season. Credit to Richard Holland and the staff at CAP for growing the popularity of the club. Selling a poor product is tough, and they’ve excelled in selling it better than before.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? 10%? We say yes. 

Scarlets

Scarlets

The Scarlets average home crowd of 7,069 is the lowest in 10 years at the club. Despite a mediocre season in Llanelli, they remain some way ahead on the pitch of teams based in Cardiff and Newport. So why this dip in popularity?

Looking at the Scarlet’s performances across all competitions, they’ve had worse (or equally bad) seasons in the last 10 years – in particular the 2007-8 season (with only 5 wins at home that year) – but this season is an all time low.

Fact check: So have “significantly more people attended … matches this season”? Absolutely not. This season was not far short of disastrous for the Scarlets.

Ospreys

Ospreys

On the pitch, by some margin, the Ospreys remain the most successful Welsh club in the history of the Celtic League in all its guises. Indeed, the 2014-15 Pro12 season saw them undefeated at home. In the early years following the realignment of the professional game, the Ospreys were by some margin the best supported club in Wales. In the 2006-7 season, attendances for Pro12 games averaged at over 9,000, but since then – other than the 2012-13 season – those levels have not been reached. This season’s average of 8,398 is up just under 6% on last season, but again a 10%+ fall on the 2012-13 peak.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? 6% is a fair rise, though the long term trend is still fairly flat. This is despite on-field success and must be a concern for the board in Swansea.

Newport Gwent Dragons

Newport Gwent Dragons

A Pro12 final position of 9th saw the Dragons finish above Cardiff Blues for the first time since 2004-5. A feel-good run of victories in the European Challenge Cup raised spirits at the club and this translated to an increase in gates. The club also finished 9th in the 2013-4 season, but last in the season before.

The Dragons won only five games at home in the Pro12 this season – pretty much par for the course in recent years.

For seven seasons, total Pro12 attendance hovered between the mid-40Ks to mid-50Ks level, but this season 85,614 souls enjoyed the Pro12 journey from the terraces in Newport. This is a 19% increase on last season.

Fact check: So is this significantly more than last season? Absolutely, it certainly is. 19% is a big increase for the club, though it is debatable whether performances in the Pro12 itself are behind this increase.

In conclusion …

Contrary to the view often expressed in the media, there is little evidence to suggest there is a direct correlation between winning form on the pitch, and attendance at Pro12 fixtures. Witness Cardiff’s 2012-13 season which saw only three home wins but an average gate of just shy of 9,000. Clearly other factors are at play which lie outside the scope of this analysis.

Turning to Mr Feehan’s comments, as you would expect, little effort seems to have been made to make a close examination of country-by-country trends, or even club-by-club trends.

Glasgow’s rise in Scotland has boosted interest from a very low level, but the SRU remains intransigent in the face of approaches to set up more pro-clubs with investors pressing for action. The blazers like to keep control and this is holding back the growth of the game. Finishing last in the Six Nations does not seem to have shaken this resolve.

John Feehan’s Irish sides continue to succeed in the Pro12. Connacht have enjoyed their most successful season ever.

But the facts elsewhere seem to have escaped Mr Feehan. Despite the Dragons’ increase in gates, Welsh rugby remains flat. Good work in Cardiff is offset by disaster in Llanelli and support in Swansea has been poor – despite continuing successes on the pitch.

And as for rugby in Italy, could the situation be any worse?

Perhaps Mr Feehan needs to look beyond his own borders and look at the Pro12 as a whole?

 

Notes:

European Competition Attendances

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As Europe’s rugby season draws to a close, this past weekend saw the first of the season’s finals played – the European Cup and Challenge Cup featured teams from France, England and Scotland. This season saw the demise of European Rugby Cup Ltd (or ERC), the company set up to run Europe’s club competitions, with nine equal shareholders represented on the Board of Directors: Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby, Fédération Française de Rugby, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, Irish Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union, Welsh Rugby Union, Regional Rugby Wales and Federazione Italiana Rugby. This season has been seen the first competitions organised by the new body European Professional Club Rugby (or EPCR).

A key component in revenues generated by professional sport is TV money and ERC’s poor performance in this area was one major reason why it was wound up. More on this to follow in subsequent blogs, but inevitably interested parties will also turn to attendance figures as a benchmark for how well the two competitions – the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – have faired this season.

Challenge Cup attendances

First the good news. Total attendances in the Challenge Cup fell just short of the 400,000 mark – up by over a fifth from last season. Furthermore, the average attendance at fixtures also rose to its highest ever point.

However, this figures should come as no surprises having the participation of lesser rugby nations like Spain or Portugal. Furthermore, the presence of an extra Welsh club also boosted attendance figures.

Champions Cup attendances

The Champions Cup saw a reduction in participants. When the competition began in 1995-96, only 15 fixtures were played. In the following season this grew to 47, but then in subsequent years, boycott from English clubs resulted in a fluctuating fixture list. Finally, from 1998-99 to 2013-14, 79 fixtures were played, whereas this season, this was reduced to 67. Unsurprisingly, with this reduction in the number of fixtures, total attendance dipped to under 1m – the first time that has happened since the 2011-12 season.

Turning to average attendances, despite a 3% growth on last year’s average, EPCR will be disappointed that despite the supposed extra focus on quality, averages attendances did not surpass the peak in the 2008-9 season of 14,874. Interestingly, there seems to be a four-year cycle appearing in Champions Cup attendances with new peaks reached every four years. Perhaps this reflects an influence from a looming Rugby World Cup, though this is far from clear.

Breakdown by country

Analysing attendance by country is somewhat distorted if one includes data on knock out phase fixtures, as these are not guaranteed in any one geography every season. So in this section, I’m focussing merely on pool games, where there has been more parity between participants.

Apart from the fact that it’s probably not such a good idea to use such garish colours in a chart, at first glance, it seems there’s a limited amount we can learn from this chart. All countries suffered a fall in paying customers at the grounds.

Implications for Welsh rugby

But a closer look reveals something alarming for fans of Welsh rugby. Unsurprisingly, with a cut from three to two teams participating in the Champions Cup this season, there’s been a fall in attendance figures. But what a fall! Fewer people watched top European competition (and this is pool games only, remember) this season than at any time since the 1998-99 season. Only 46,892 attended Champions Cup pool fixtures – down from a peak of 126,811 in the 2008-9 season. That’s a fall of 73%.

Looking at the data in percentage terms, the effect is even more striking. Whilst the contribution of English and French fans has been steady, the increasing popularity of European competition in Ireland is clear to see. What is more striking however is the shrinking of the Welsh figure.

And finally ….

These trends raise a number of questions for Welsh rugby. Should we be worried about the drop of almost 80,000 in the attendance at European Champions rugby games in Wales? People will surely just watch Challenge Cup games instead, right? Subsequent blogs will address these questions, but perhaps a more fundamental question that needs to be answered is why Welsh rugby sacrificed a guaranteed place in Champions rugby? What did we gain for this sacrifice? Some may argue that our teams are not competitive in this competition, but the only way to get better is to play against the best. After all, Cardiff are one of only two teams to defeat Toulon in Europe in the last two years. Paying customers are attracted by quality – even the quality of the opposition. Without that exposure, our clubs are being robbed of revenue and the game in Wales will suffer. Finally, the best sporting competitions are comprised of participants any of whom can win on a given day. Cardiff indeed proved this two seasons ago. But with the huge disparity in TV deals signed between England, France and the Pro12, what can be done to arrest the transformation of the European Champions Cup into an Anglo-French competition?

Notes on the data used to compile this blog:
1. Attendances are missing from official records for the early seasons of the Challenge Cup which renders that data unsuitable for comparison purposes.

Judgement Day III – some context

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Welsh rugby’s late season double header saw the highest attendance of the three times this jamboree has been held. See what happens when people work together? Now with Roger finally consigned to Rhoose, there are already signs of a resuscitation of the pro-game under the guidance of Gareth Davies.

The 52,762 who turned up in Cardiff to watch the two games represented a big jump on the previous two double headers, up from 30,411 in 2014, and 36,174 in 2013.

So this is all good news, right? Well more bums on seats means more revenue for the pro-game, so let’s not get too negative about this progress. But what about the hype in the media about the attendance figures?

Biggest attendance for a Pro12/Celtic League Fixture in History

That’s really stretching it as this was in fact two games. So you could argue that the attendance per game was 26,381. That’s some way short of Leinster’s 22-18 victory over Munster in March last year, when 51,700 turned up to watch that game in Dublin. In fact, JDIII doesn’t even make the top 10 for the highest Pro12/Celtic League attendances of all time.

Biggest attendance for a pro-game featuring a Welsh club/regional team this century in Wales

That record is still held by Cardiff, and their agonising defeat to Leicester in the HEC in 2009. But JDIII does make it into the Top 10, coming in at number six.

Biggest attendance for a Pro12/Celtic League Fixture in Wales

This is a record that also wasn’t beaten. In the second Celtic League Final, Neath faced Munster at the Millennium Stadium, and 30,076 souls saw Neath go down 37-17 against the Irishmen on that day in 2003.

Biggest attendance for a professional game of rugby in Europe on 25th April 2014

There’s a record that will undoubtedly stand. Leicester’s defeat of London Welsh came in second with 23,016 and Toulouse’s outstanding win in Paris was witnessed by 20,000 (still awaiting LNR’s official figure on that one).

Biggest attendance for a professional game of rugby in the world on 25th April 2014

Sadly, we’re still some way short of that. 45,872 watched the Stormers beat the Bulls in Cape Town.

Until the first double-header in 2013, and since the demise of cup finals that regularly filled the then National Stadium, we’ve been robbed of big domestic games in Wales. The English and French have maintained that tradition and double headers in London have become a regular success. Saracens’ games against Harlequins are now regularly drawing 80,000 plus at Wembley.

As ever with Welsh rugby, the press is always more interested in making a story than reporting on the facts, and are particularly myopic when it comes to historical trends or taking a non-parochial view of events.

Rugby attendances in Wales have dipped since their 2009-10 peak (more on that in later blogs), but perhaps the biggest conclusion we can draw from Judgement Day III is this. Despite all four teams being mostly shorn of their international stars (thank you Warren), and despite the fact that the untouchable Clancy was refereeing one of the games, and despite the pretty poor performances (Ospreys’ aside) that have plagued Welsh club/regional rugby this season, 52,762 people turned up to watch these two games. Now that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

£100m

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Last month, I had a life changing experience. To be precise, it was my wife’s life changing experience, but my life will now never be the same. A distant uncle with no relatives left the sum of £100m to her in his will. Now that’s a life changer. Like the wonderful woman that she is, she said, “Let’s split it 50-50, but you must invest at least 50% of your share.” So £25m goes into the bank and I’m earning more money in interest than I can spend. Life is good. And better still, I’ve got that £25m to play with.

So what to do with my £25m? Suddenly, I realised what this meant. This is my chance, I thought. I can invest the money in my dream – to help build Cardiff back up to become one of the top teams in Europe.

So, three weeks ago, I approach the board at Cardiff Arms Park with my proposal and business plan – a massive cash investment to develop the stadium and surrounds, a complete overhaul of the support staff and training facilities, and serious investment in the playing squad.

“Thank you very much for your gift,” they said.

“Hang on a minute!” I replied. “I’ve got more than just money to offer. I would like to retain some influence to ensure my cash is used in the way I’d like. Let’s convert my cash into shares.”

“Not possible”, came the reply. “We can’t issue shares from Cardiff RFC Ltd – the company that owns the Cardiff Blues – because part of the shares are held by Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC).”

“I don’t follow”, I replied.

“Well, under the company structure of CRFC Ltd, a certain percentage of shares must be held by CAC – and they don’t want to buy any more shares, so we can’t convert your gift into shares without them also buying shares.”

Dumbstruck by the control still held by an amateur organisation, I was shocked. “So what you’re telling me is, even though I’m offering you a £25m investment, you cannot offer me a stake in the business?”

“I’m afraid so”, came the reply.

I was angry. I was frustrated. All those dreams I thought I could realise were suddenly shattered. I lashed out and said something stupid, “In that case, I’ll take my money to Newport and invest it there instead!”

“You can’t do that either. They’re 50% owned by the WRU.”

Ah well. I wonder if there’s a club across the border who would be interested?

B&Bs v B&ABs

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This is the proper club derby, the one with the serious history dating back decades to when the two played each other four times a year or more. This is the old rivalry, this is the one that matters and this is the one that counts. Or at least it used to before plasticity in Newport and lunacy at Cardiff emasculated the fixture.

Still, never mind, let’s make the most of it as any victory over the Newport team, whatever fancy dress or stupid #eeeknockediton #limegreenfamily nonsense that surrounds it, is always to be savoured. It was always more sweet to go to Dave Parade and to win a knockout game so let’s hope that Saturday will bring back the more positive memories to overcome the pantomime set up surrounding the game.

At the core of this game is the fact that Cardiff should be good enough to win, even without key players like Cory Allen, Rhys Patchell and Adam Thomas. Well, two of those three anyway. What stands in their way is not so much the ability of the home team (who are always set up to play the underdog style of Cup rugby that helps in one offs, thanks to Lyn Jones’ love of kick and clap rugby) but the standard of coaching heaped upon this group all season.

The key part of the NGD game plan will be to win penalties from the driving line out. Cardiff have a real achilles heel in this area and the ease in which it was exposed by the NGD at BTSportCAP over Christmas will not be lost even on Lyn Jones. The driving line out will win penalties that Prydie can kick and it will also encourage the kick to the corner to go for the try. If Cardiff can hold out the driving line out in the first 30 minutes in order to stop that part of the home team’s gameplan then they will be some way to winning the game.

The next problem for Cardiff is the average number of points conceded per game. Since McIntosh was appointed as Defence Coach he has managed to produce a record equally as bad as his predecessor (who was sacked) and he appears to be less “The Chief” and more the leader of the Israelites out of Egypt in that he has coached his players to part like the Red Sea. This allows the NGD two key attack points to try out – the driving line out and the cunning plan of keeping the ball long enough and for enough phases until Cardiff’s defensive line predictably crumbles.

In return, Cardiff have little attacking shape. It’s true that they are capable of scoring some stunning tries and can maintain the ball for a large number of phases but all of that seems rather out of keeping, out of the norm, unpredictable. You don’t look at this Cardiff team and see where the tries will come from which means that Saturday is a big test for Gareth Anscombe. He looked to play pretty well at Dave Parade earlier this season but, for this game, he and Lloyd Williams must see the team home. Ideally, Cardiff will play a pick and drive game close to the breakdown in order to develop momentum as none can come from this team in the outside centre channel. Anscombe must send Evans, Smith and Cuthbert off short passes and into the NGD half back area. Key to that, of course, is the support play of Warburton and his fellow back row players.

We’d start with Vosawai at 8 to play the driving game, with Warburton and Jenkins on the flanks as these are the strongest players over the ball. It is in the contact area that this game will be won and the importance of controlling possession will be key. It’s cup rugby, so limited ambition and risk free rugby, which Cardiff can play pretty well. They must evoke the spirit of Wasps in 2010 and the way that Rush led that game if they are to prosper.

It will be tight and it will likely be determined by JP Doyle, the referee. His interpretation of the breakdown area and the front row binding could necessarily bring the penalties that will decide the winning margin.

Where is Everybody?

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So the present theme / stick with which to beat Pro Rugby Wales is crowd levels. For example, the self proclaimed “National Newspaper of Wales” ran a back page story on why crowd levels were as poor as just over 5,000 for some games, but used a poll of just 3,000 votes for the basis of their story. Clearly, the irony of this was lost on the intellects running that paper into the ground, more so when you consider that was 3,000 votes and not 3,000 unique voters.

This story was run on the Friday before a weekend of European Club rugby, something that PRW fought for almost to the end of its existence last year. The four members are signatories and shareholders of the new competition and, in achieving this, won the war with Roger Lewis. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the WM is not willing to support PRW in this competition but to produce, with such vulgar rigour, this piece on the Friday before Round 4 shows how its editor has nailed its colours to the Sinking Ship of the Jolly Roger.

That aside, absolute crowd numbers at all of the four teams are at a low ebb but are far from as relatively bad as many wish to make out. It is always pointed out that the Irish teams can attract significantly larger crowds than the Welsh teams and this is used as a stick to beat PRW. Those wielding the stick highlighted Ireland as the model to use for a Union run professional game. Those wielding the stick never mention how well that model is doing in Scotland.

At this point it is worth pausing to note who is wielding the stick. Well, in simple terms, it is those who have volunteered to be outside of the professional game in Wales yet who feel entitled to be within it. This core, basic, sense of entitlement can be simply traced back to 2003 when “regional rugby” was introduced. Despite there being no one single document in the public domain of what a Welsh Rugby Region is supposed to be (other than the WRU Articles of Association which note that PRW are Regions), there is a mass of disenfranchised individuals who seem to think that “proper regions” will somehow “represent” them.

Which takes us back to the comparison with Ireland. For starters, how can an area so small as South Wales be split geographically for “representation”? If you want to consider just how small the area of South Wales actually is then consider that Munster has a land mass (9,527 square miles) bigger than the whole of Wales (8,022 square miles). How can that be split further? To get from Newport to Cardiff is one train stop, to get from Swansea to Newport is under an hour by car. I’ve seen it suggested that Wales should be split by Compass point for “support” purposes but where would the line be drawn? For starters, there’s no private finance or infrastructure ready to support professional rugby in the North. Then we have the case of the Chap who lives in Newport, works in Cardiff but was born in Swansea. Who is he “represented” by? It’s ludicrous to think that Compass points are somehow representative.

To return to Ireland, it’s now time to turn to population base. If you consider four teams in South Wales share a catchment area of 2 million people then it must be noted that this is roughly the single catchment area for both Ulster and Leinster. In other words, there are lots more people available to pay for professional rugby in the areas which have higher attendances. All of this is before, of course, we consider that the direct competitors for PRW are Swansea City and Cardiff City who both regularly attract crowds well in excess of 18,000. The Irish provinces have no such winter professional team sport competition.

Therefore, in South Wales, we have a small population who, as we know, isn’t relatively financially well off. So when you consider the price of the ticket and that most of the home games are on free to air TV, it’s no wonder that crowds are low.

But none of that address the key issue of the product being poor, for it undoubtedly is. It should be of no surprise that it is so poor when PRW have been deliberately kept poor by the WRU for many years. Let us not forget that Lewis claimed that there was no more money that could be paid from the international game to its immediate supply chain. Again, those making the comparison with the Irish game, omit to mention the killer fact here that the IRFU spends significantly more on elite rugby than does the WRU.

In professional sport, the cause of the product being relatively poor is because of the standard of player employed and, in turn, that is caused by the finances available to pay the player. If you wish to continue the comparison with Ireland, look at the number of top Irish players playing outside of Ireland compared with the number of top Welsh players. For the sake of argument, let’s call it 1 (Sexton) versus well over a dozen. If PRW were able to condense those dozen players into the top three Welsh teams then it is obvious that they would be more successful. And then people would turn up to watch them…..

This lack of finance, however, isn’t all about the top dozen players in France and England. It’s also about the loss of quality mid-range players who are outside of Wales like Owen Williams, Ian Evans, Nicky Robinson, Dwayne Peel and many more. The experience of these players (not only their talents) would bring a huge boost of success to the Welsh teams.

So Lewis has created the perfect storm for Welsh rugby through his desire to pay off too early the stadium debt. He has drained the professional game of comparative finance from the international game and discouraged the benefactors from further investment. Let’s remember, he publicly claimed that if PRW did not sign to roll over his PA then he would see that they were no longer in business. This prevented them from being able to invest into their squads for many seasons.

We are told, by the disenfranchised, that the WRU would invest more into the pro game were they the owners of the pro game. Of course, there is no evidence for this at all whilst, to counter the argument, there is years of Roger Lewis driven evidence to note that investment into the pro game was not part of his desire.

So these are the ingredients to the argument: a small, vocal, minority of self decided disenfranchised folk with a sense of entitlement that is totally misplaced and, of course, is never driven by the desire to put their money where their mouth is. The pro game has passed them by as there is nothing that could be in place to entice them, along with more people than the present set up attracts, to become paying punters. They are collateral damage. They are irrelevant and small in number.

What the Western Mail should be focussing on, were it interested in journalistic standards over maintaining its “close” relationship with the WRU, is how the financial differences between Irish and Welsh rugby has driven the game to where it is today. The starvation of the professional game by the WRU, combined with the threat of preventing the PRW from trading, has forced the game into the quality of squads we presently have in Wales. And, frankly put, there is not one supporter of a PRW team who wouldn’t want those squads to be stronger.

Therefore, the simple answer to bringing in more paying supporters is to ensure that the teams are strong enough to be competitive, entertaining and, ultimately, to win. That will bring in more paying supporters, as history proves, but when this is combined with a competition which also attracts the floating supporter then the professional game will grow further. All of which, of course, means money. The four should be able to brand as they see fit, to chase new income streams as they see fit, to control their broadcast contracts and, ultimately, to choose their own competitions.

Only when all of that is in place – combined with the market rate for supply to Team Wales – will our four be successful. And only then will people be enticed away from their sofa and free to air TV to actually buy a ticket.

2014-5: A Season’s Preview

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So much has changed since the end of last season and yet so much has remained the same. Whilst the WRU still block the progression of the professional game by underpaying for services from RRW and overpaying for services from Barclays Bank, the future of the professional game remains in the balance. Will Wales have proper professional teams or will they pay lip service to the idea that a strong professional game will ensure a strong international team? And, perhaps more importantly, who still actually cares? The impasse has gone on so long that many have just given up on it.

Add to that fact that we are still stuck in the ProSiambles league spawned by the dreadful Celtic Accord, things are looking gloomy. However, there is a shining light of hope that has been delivered by the appointment of Mark Hammett from New Zealand.  Let’s be honest, he has joined the club at the best possible time as it can only be onwards and upwards from the dreadful reign of Phil Davies but further hope was provided by his first signing being a new Strength and Conditioning Coach – Paul Downes.  We had banged on so often last year about the lack of physicality in the Cardiff team and how it was so negatively affecting the team, so the good news is that somebody else also had spotted this obvious fact.

But before we look into the future, we must first mention Owen Williams and his terrible accident.  “Stay Strong for Ows” is the caption and we all buy into that and wish him well for his future. We certainly hope to see him back at CAP some day soon.

Along with Hammett has come, so far, another couple of Kiwis – Jarrod Hoeata and Welshman Kiwi Gareth Anscombe.  The former is a player who will come in very useful if they can decide whether he is a lock or a blindside, the latter will probably spend more time with Team Wales than with Cardiff. Hoeata will land soon in Wales, but Anscombe won’t be here until the end of October.

The other key new signings (again, so far, as there are a number of non-Welsh spaces available) include Tavis Knoyle, George Watkins, Manoa Vosawai, Josh Turnbull, Craig Mitchell and some ex-Pontypridd players. In one way these signings offer a hope of improvement on last season because of the concentration on season-long available players but the lack of quality of signing means that there must be a number of new non-Welsh qualified signings to make up the shortfall.

To succeed at ProSiambles level requires the very basics of rugby – a simple but effective set piece, a good kicking game, players to get over the gain line and a consistency of selection. With the signings made over the summer (including the coaching staff) there is a hint that those basics could be in place. However, so many new signings means that time must be given and we probably won’t be seeing the “proper” Cardiff until about Christmas time, just before the best players leave to play International Rugby…….

That said, we should see an improvement on last season. We should see more games won (because of a better conditioned and more settled squad) and we should see a progression into the knockout stages of the European Mickey Mouse Cup as only London Irish stand in the way of that. The question is whether Cardiff will qualify for the proper competition through their finish in the ProSiambles, but it is too soon to judge that with so many new ingredients into the team. There’s righteous optimism in place, but it’s very cautious.

First Choice 23 (will it ever be seen?):

Anscombe, Cuthbert, Allen, Hewitt, Watkins, Patchell, Williams, Vosawai, Jenkins, Turnbull, Hoeata, Paulo, Mitchell, Rees, Jenkins

Filise, Dacey, Andrews, Reed, Navidi, Knoyle, Fish, Smith

Dogma or Financial Common Sense?

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The present stand off in Welsh rugby seems to be about what freedoms and rights four individual, privately owned, businesses have under the regulations of the IRB and the WRU. There is an enormous legal battle involved therein which is beyond the wit of most men, certainly me. My hope is that this dispute does reach the courts because we need rugby to modernise across Europe, in line with the law of our Continent and in line with modern business practices.

We have the owner of Toulon looking to challenge the rights of the IRB (especially Regulation 9 about player release for international windows and more) in the European Courts, so a challenge within the Courts of England and Wales as to whether Unions can block their clubs from playing wherever they like will be an interesting addition to that challenge.

However, we must hope that both parties in Wales have the same goal and that goal must be to have four strong professional teams who are able to compete on a cross border basis, aiming to compete with the much financially stronger French. If both sides have that goal then the difference is clearly on how to achieve it.

The Regions clearly want to choose the competitions they play in and to negotiate their own broadcast contracts. The reason for this is entirely obvious: clubs in France and England have this ability already and are significantly more successful in bringing in revenue than are the Celtic Unions. The figures prove this: the Pro12’s TV revenue for next season is (potentially, based on participation) about £9.5m a year across 10 teams. The French contract is approximately £60m across 14 teams, the English contract is approximately £27m across 12 teams.

Therefore, it is quite obvious as to why RRW want a piece of the English pie and not the Celtic pie. It is also reported that should there be an Anglo-Welsh league next season then that would be worth £4m a year to the RRW teams.

On top of that, we have on the table an offer for a Rugby Champions Cup which is to be broadcast by BT Sport and to be run by the participating clubs. This, according to RRW, is worth £1m more per year per team than the offer for a continuation of the Union controlled ERC tournament.

So, it is all about the money. And why not? This is professional sport, after all. The recent investigation into Welsh rugby by PWC indicated that the RRW teams must find ways to increase their income and this is exactly what they have done.

Now doesn’t this seem all well and good? Why would a Union have an issue with its member clubs acting this way as it is exactly how the French and English clubs act?

Well, the answer seems to be control. It seems as though the WRU is reluctant to allow the clubs to act that way as, under the Agreement they work to at the moment, all of the above work (competition choice and broadcast contract negotiation) is undertaken by the WRU. The easy dig at that belief is to note that the Unions have performed pretty poorly at both of those tasks as the Pro12 is neither popular with supporters nor financially attractive to broadcasters.

So is it just dogma that is preventing the Union allowing RRW to choose its own competitions and negotiate its own TV deals? Well, there are a few straw men arguments that go alongside this which must be considered. The first is that allowing RRW to act in this way will somehow undermine the amateur game in Wales or cause it financial difficulties. This is an argument that I find utterly alien as I don’t see how the amateur clubs are affected by whether the Ospreys play Leinster or Leicester. I’ve never seen a written coherent prose for this argument but it is often raised. The financial side of the concern is simply addressed by the WRU issuing a “tax” of a small percentage on any competition income generated by RRW.

The next straw man argument is that, by wishing to negotiate their own deals, RRW want to control the entire game in Wales. This is a particularly crazy argument as RRW teams have a difficult enough task running their own business so quite why they’d want to make that more difficult by being a controlling influence over the amateur game is beyond me. There is the thought that the RRW teams will want to be more involved in the pyramid of talent production but surely the only dissenting voices to that idea will be those at risk of losing their position of local influence.

The biggest straw man argument is that allowing RRW this freedom will negatively affect the Six Nations. This is a particularly large pile of nonsense. The simple truth is that the French have the purchasing power to attract whichever players they want, with the English getting the next best. This is already in place, it is happening and it will happen for years to come as both the English and French leagues have broadcast contracts in place for years to continue this trend.

Therefore, the best players from Ireland and Scotland will leave their countries regardless of whether RRW negotiate their own deals or not. The biggest risk to the Six Nations is the Toulon challenge of the IRB Regulation 9, not whether the Ospreys can raise their salary cap from £3.5m a year to £5m.

The only real argument to this issue is that the WRU signed up to a Pro12 contract which has a three year rolling notice term that is yet to be announced. There could be a significant charge to the WRU for not fulfilling its obligations to enter its best teams into the competition. However, the WRU is no position to do this because, if the RRW teams go rogue, it will need to enter its own teams which will clearly be inferior. So the other Unions (mostly the IRFU and SRU, as the Italians may leave the league anyway) choose to sue then the WRU seems powerless to prevent it. Alternatively, the WRU could back an AW league on the proviso that RRW teams play out the three remaining years of that Pro12 contract in return.

The benefit of this could be that the Welsh Premiership is freed of the clubs which own the regions, allowing that tier to be truly independent and competitive, whilst the RRW teams have a guaranteed “A” competition in the Pro12 so that talent is given game time.

Wales has already exported too much talent. There are already too many Welsh qualified players playing outside of Wales. If RRW ploughing their own furrow can both bring most of those players back whilst keeping most of our better players (noting that the French will always have the pick) then this is only a good thing for Welsh rugby.

So unless the WRU can negotiate contracts of the value that RRW are already being offered, their resistance to RRW acting this way can only be because of dogma, because of fear for the loss of their influence, because of the loss of £10m+ from the company turnover. There can be no other sensible defence.

For me, all parties benefit if RRW goes its own way. The WRU will be able to renegotiate an Agreement for player release rather than lose that ability altogether, more money will come into the game for the WRU to spend on its amateur arm and it will spend less time administering its professional arm. It’s only dogma and personality preventing this.

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