Tis the Season to Be Jolly

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As we enter what should be the most enjoyable and crucial part of the season, it is matters off the field which dominate thoughts more than the up coming derby games of the holiday season. Yet, in a strange way, the fight with the Union off the field has brought the four teams together to promote these derby matches better than ever before and it seems to be working as ticket sales are very good. We even have a sponsor for the games as Domino Pizza are putting up some cash – perfect for the couch potato follower of the game in Wales.

These upcoming games (Ospreys at home and then our friends to the East at both home and away) should be about finalising qualification positions for next season’s European competitions but, sadly, they will not be. Either all four of our teams will be playing some dreadful Pro12 Cup with a few disinterested French teams, or we’ll all happily be playing the English. The latter, please, for me.

However, there is still some bragging rights and pride to play for plus there’s a rumour that Gatland might actually watch some of them as Irish chat shows aren’t broadcasting over Christmas, so there may be some Six Nations squad places up for grabs.

The last two games have seen Cardiff knock Glasgow out of the European Cup and many are proclaiming that things have turned around since the bad times of the first half in Exeter. I’m not quite sure of this yet, however, as the Munster game proved that there is still a soft underbelly in this Cardiff team that can be attacked through close driving rugby. Glasgow, thankfully, barely played that way in either game but they did have some success at it when they tried it.

I think that it is pretty obvious that both Newport and the Ospreys will know how to beat Cardiff. First up, the Ospreys will rumble it up the park, play for territory and bring their centres back close to the back row. They will play off their scrum half, bring runners on the ball and Tipuric will have a field day as Warburton is still carrying a book signing injury. This will be a real test for Cardiff and a true measurement of how McIntosh has improved things since Exeter. The potential strength of the Ospreys pack, even if it is missing Hibbard and Adam Jones, should see the visitors win by more than a converted try if they play that way.

Newport GD, on the other hand, don’t really have the pack to do that. They don’t have the ball carrying options or the talent or togetherness to drive consistently close to the breakdown in order to create the gaps in the defensive line. The games against this lot, both home and away, will likely be a lesson in madness, in unstructured play and in indiscipline, to the point where the games will likely be won by individual talent and goal kicking (the latter being referee dependent).

The game at home will be labelled “entertaining” as the surface will allow a chuckabout and, potentially, something of a point fest. Cardiff really should be winning both games but the injury list will mean that the workload on the players of the last few weeks will catch up with them for the away game. In other words, this series is likely to end one all.

The shame is that these series of games aren’t as important as they should be and, hopefully, aren’t as meaningful as they will be next season.

Years of decline and wasted time….

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It wasn’t so long ago that Cardiff were thrown out of competing in the Welsh League because the club refused to sign a long term agreement with the WRU. This was at a time when professionalism was new to the game and some of the clubs were fighting the Unions for control of the game, it’s assets and it’s future.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

This week we have heard from Nigel Wray, the Saracens Chairman, that the Welsh teams should join the Aviva Premiership which is remarkably similar to what happened when Cardiff (and Swansea) were thrown out of the Welsh League. They had campaigned for the Welsh clubs to go with the English clubs and won an agreement for a year long competition, after the Rebel Season had finished, for four Welsh clubs to play in such a competition. That year was to be spent with all four parties (the RFU, the WRU, the Welsh clubs and the English clubs) sorting out the future of the competition in terms of ownership, income generation and the distribution of that income to the participants.

Cardiff had put Welsh rugby on the front foot with these negotiations and Peter Thomas was leading the way, but the fight was won by Vernon Pugh and Glanmor Griffiths of the WRU. They blocked the tournament, Cardiff and Swansea lost their bottle and we have been subjected to over a decade of dreadful Celtic rugby ever since.

Of course, there was a backlash within Wales. The minor clubs were up in arms and the tail wagged the dog. We have seen the myth of “regional rugby” imposed and now we see the domestic game dying in Welsh rugby.

The loss of the HEC next season will leave a hole of £5.5m into the professional game in Wales. The HEC generates almost as much for the four teams (yes, the Newport GD get an equal share despite not playing in the competition) as does the International game. This is a key point: what the WRU pays for access to the players is only slightly more (£6m) than the HEC pays just for playing in the competition. That £5.5m is before gate receipts and match day takings, of course, so it is pretty obvious that the HEC generates MORE for the professional game in Wales. In the unlikely event that one of the three teams get to the knockout stages then all of the prize money (and it is substantial) that they earn is then theirs.

The key part of that £6m from the WRU is that it is for access to players outside of the IRB window. For those who think that the professional game in Wales either doesn’t need that access or will be able to negotiate it from other club organisations, you have to wonder why a Union would do that instead of ensuring its own domestic supply chain is strong AND you have to wonder if the Union would be able to pay the demands of those foreign club organisations. Once the players are lost from playing in Wales then the access to them is much more difficult and, potentially, much more expensive.

So that’s the scene we now have in Welsh rugby. Over a decade ago, the clubs had the opportunity to lead their destiny but now they are solely reliant on others doing that for them. Do the clubs side with the WRU and be subservient forever with no change of making the business pay, or do they push to side with the clubs and face another Union / Minor clubs backlash?

Cardiff used to be good. They used to be a top team. They used to be leading these negotiations and, at one point, the Chief Executive of Cardiff was a board member of the organisation that ran the English club game. Nowadays, however, Cardiff lose at home to the worst professional team in Europe. Nowadays, Cardiff are reliant on old favours and memories for a place at the top table in European rugby.

And the irony for the regionalists is that what could allow Welsh professional rugby to survive is the relationships built up well before 2003, whilst the time spent since 2003 has been navel gazing to appease the Villagers instead of pushing forward the professional game.

The decline of a once Great Club

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It wasn’t so long ago that Cardiff were thrown out of competing in the Welsh League because the club refused to sign a long term agreement with the WRU. This was at a time when professionalism was new to the game and some of the clubs were fighting the Unions for control of the game, it’s assets and it’s future. Doesn’t that sound familiar? This week we have heard from Nigel Wray, the Saracens Chairman, that the Welsh teams should join the Aviva Premiership (http://www.espn.co.uk/premiership-2013-14/rugby/story/198553.html) which is remarkably similar to what happened when Cardiff (and Swansea) were thrown out of the Welsh League. They had campaigned for the Welsh clubs to go with the English clubs and won an agreement for a year long competition, after the Rebel Season had finished, for four Welsh clubs to play in such a competition. That year was to be spent with all four parties (the RFU, the WRU, the Welsh clubs and the English clubs) sorting out the future of the competition in terms of ownership, income generation and the distribution of that income to the participants. Cardiff had put Welsh rugby on the front foot with these negotiations and Peter Thomas was leading the way, but the fight was won by Vernon Pugh and Glanmor Griffiths of the WRU. They blocked the tournament, Cardiff and Swansea lost their bottle and we have been subjected to over a decade of dreadful Celtic rugby ever since. Of course, there was a backlash within Wales. The minor clubs were up in arms and the tail wagged the dog. We have seen the myth of “regional rugby” imposed and now we see the domestic game dying in Welsh rugby. The loss of the HEC next season will leave a hole of £5.5m into the professional game in Wales. The HEC generates almost as much for the four teams (yes, the Newport GD get an equal share despite not playing in the competition) as does the International game. This is a key point: what the WRU pays for access to the players is only slightly more (£6m) than the HEC pays just for playing in the competition. That £5.5m is before gate receipts and match day takings, of course, so it is pretty obvious that the HEC generates MORE for the professional game in Wales. In the unlikely event that one of the three teams get to the knockout stages then all of the prize money (and it is substantial) that they earn is then theirs. The key part of that £6m from the WRU is that it is for access to players outside of the IRB window. For those who think that the professional game in Wales either doesn’t need that access or will be able to negotiate it from other club organisations, you have to wonder why a Union would do that instead of ensuring its own domestic supply chain is strong AND you have to wonder if the Union would be able to pay the demands of those foreign club organisations. Once the players are lost from playing in Wales then the access to them is much more difficult and, potentially, much more expensive. So that’s the scene we now have in Welsh rugby. Over a decade ago, the clubs had the opportunity to lead their destiny but now they are solely reliant on others doing that for them. Do the clubs side with the WRU and be subservient forever with no change of making the business pay, or do they push to side with the clubs and face another Union / Minor clubs backlash? Cardiff used to be good. They used to be a top team. They used to be leading these negotiations and, at one point, the Chief Executive of Cardiff was a board member of the organisation that ran the English club game. Nowadays, however, Cardiff lose at home to the worst professional team in Europe. Nowadays, Cardiff are reliant on old favours and memories for a place at the top table in European rugby. And the irony for the regionalists is that what could allow Welsh professional rugby to survive is the relationships built up well before 2003, whilst the time spent since 2003 has been navel gazing to appease the Villagers instead of pushing forward the professional game.

A Return……

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Although we’re starting slowly, Tom and I have decided to relaunchhttp://www.cardiffrfcfans.co.uk

Tom has worked hard over the last few months to get everything back up and running, making sure that all of the old links and match reports are there for all to see.

We hope to keep the site up to date over the coming seasons and would always welcome feedback of (nearly) all kinds, so much so that there is now a forum on the site.

So, please have a scout around and get in touch if it tickles your fancy

http://www.cardiffrfcfans.co.uk

Congratulations to the Noisy Neighbours

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In many ways, this season’s success for Pontypridd RFC is the blueprint for all non-professional clubs in Wales to follow. The positives that come from a well-deserved double this season are numerous and should be the aim for all Welsh Premiership (bar those who own professional teams) and lower league clubs, but so should be how PRFC are looking to build on that success.

For me, the key to the success of PRFC this season is stability based on the coaching setup and the “in house” method of those who understand the club being in the key positions which control both the on and off field matters. By that, I mean that they have proper club men in charge of all aspects of the club, men who love the club and see the club as “theirs”. This is vital at this level of rugby.

The two leading lights in this regard are obviously the Coaches – MacIntosh and John (plus Gareth Wyatt). Both have worn the PRFC shirt, both are ingrained in the Club and the Club’s history, both understand what PRFC is, what it represents and how its players should view playing for the club. From this strong base they can recruit players who fit the mould, who will contribute to the team ethic and who will play for the club. It is a club which tried mercenaries in the past and failed with them, for good reason. To play for PRFC, you have to understand PRFC.

It goes beyond the coaches and the players, however. The Team Manager (Richard Langmead) played for the club, the club’s Conditioning Coach (Darren Bool) played for the club in his youth days. The club runs a junior section from u7s to u16s and then into a Youth team. The Board of Directors are led by those who have been part of the club for decades and they have seen the sense to further expand the business which runs the club by encouraging supporters to buy further shares in the business. This will allow them to become more involved with their club, to “belong” even more.

Local sponsors have been found to help support the club as they are happy to be aligned with what PRFC stands for. They want their companies associated with those values and they pay accordingly. It is a community spirit.

PRFC is a family and families stick together at all times.

This togetherness is the model for community clubs. PRFC aims to be at the centre of the community, the focal point for the town and something for the town to be proud of. This model (although I would prefer an I&PS than a Limited Company as the ownership model, but that is a minor complaint) is something that all Town and Village Clubs throughout Wales should follow. There is a continuity, an identity, a value and a spirit than passes down generations and ensures longevity.

Now, however, comes the negative. The strength of PRFC and its ability to flourish as a semi professional club is not translatable to a higher level of rugby. It is the perfect set up for club rugby in Wales but that is its plateau and it should not try to push beyond that.

To compete as a professional club requires access to millions of pounds worth of funds, huge sponsorship deals and a love of money. Money is key at the professional level. Without money a team will simply not survive, let alone be in a position to compete in cross border competition. The present four Welsh professional teams are struggling on this stage with wage bills of £3.5m (let’s remind ourselves that both HEC Cup Finalists had salary caps of €8.7m as a comparison) and there is no way that a professional PRFC would generate enough income to have a cap anywhere near even £3.5m. The infrastructure in its community simply isn’t there.

It is a shame that PRFC voiced its public support for Valleys Rugby as I believe that VR could easily kill off PRFC as we know it. The time and finances simply are not there in this community to support both teams, plus the business plan of Valleys Rugby tried to kid its supporters that it could compete at cross border level with a salary bill of just £1.7m. That means that they would be twice as bad as the four Welsh teams currently are.

I’d urge PRFC and its supporters to ditch Valleys Rugby and to concentrate on themselves. I applaud their performances this year, I urge them to concentrate further on strengthening that family of players to be able to compete in their own HEC – the British & Irish Cup. They have the potential to position themselves as the Premier “Club” in Wales and beyond.

It is a family that doesn’t need professional rugby in order to survive and grow. In fact, I’d argue that history tells us that professional rugby is bad for this Club so it should concentrate on what it does best and continuing to do that as it bloody well can.

BOSS It!

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Pontypridd RFC are developing a share scheme that will allow further investment into their club and for this they should be applauded. Instead of asking Supporters and Followers for the up front purchase price of £50 a share, these can now be paid for monthly at £10 per month. Every five months a new share certificate is issued to that subscriber.

Obviously there is some devil in the detail here but that is for individuals to find for themselves. What if somebody pays for four months but not five? Do they get their £40 back or what happens to it? Minor issues that should not detract from the point in hand.

All rugby clubs should be encouraged (forced? how?) to allow supporters to purchase shares in similar ways as supporter ownership is vital.

The long term success of a sports organisation is dependent upon taking supporters with them and we have the prime example of this under our noses in Cardiff. Have the change to red from blue seen empty seats at the Soccer stadium then Mr Tan would have had to back down. As it was, supporters took the pill for his investment and are now seeing the rewards.

The next part for Pontypridd must be to form a Supporters’ Trust. Not every fan has £120 spare per year to buy just a couple of shares so a large group of them coming together is the best way forward to ensure representation for all Supporters, regardless of disposable income.

Supporters’ Trusts are set up as Industrial & Provident Societies, with one member one vote being the crucial element in their formation. All are equal. All have one vote. If the Pontypridd supporters really want a democratic Supporter owned club then the only route to take is to go through a Trust.

That way will also allow Ponty Rugby to be owned by an I&PS, which allows it to then become eligible for grant funding for numerous organisations. This way, Ponty Rugby truly becomes the hub of its community.

And I urge ALL non-professional rugby clubs in Wales to go this route.

What is there to support?

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There are many different reasons as to why an individual chooses to “support” a sports team, ranging from location / parental influence / a favourite player / they like the kit. In the Welsh media at the moment there seems to be a desire to show that the popularity of soccer, plus having two top flight soccer teams, will somehow negatively affect the support of our professional rugby game. But will it? Is soccer the biggest danger to support at professional level or could it be something else? For me, it is rugby’s ability to eat itself that is a greater danger. Soccer has always been popular in South Wales and it is pretty clear now that it is the most popular team sport in Wales for support and player numbers. And I think that it has been for some time, well before Swansea entered the Premiership. With the wall to wall media coverage of the sport and the well known wages on offer, it has always been the choice of sport for most youngsters in Wales. Having Cardiff City in the Premiership won’t affect that. Rugby will always have its place in Welsh society, especially outside of the cities of Cardiff and Swansea, but that is no reason for it to be lazy. It faces increases challenges from all leisure activities, not just soccer, in its race for customers so it has to offer something at the professional (not international) level to get people through the door. This leads us to the question of why anybody should support (by that I mean pay for tickets) any of the four professional rugby teams in Wales. Our friends in the media would have us believe that support should follow “regional lines”. In other words, if you live in Bridgend or follow Bridgend RFC then you “should” be an Ospreys supporter too. If you live in Pontypool then it is the Dragons for you and so on. For me, this is an utterly nonsense argument that ignores freedom of choice, ignores the fact that South Wales is tiny geographically and is further confused by the ease of movement along the M4 corridor. So, Mr Western Mail, what if our “supporter” in question is a 30 year old single lady who was born and raised in Pembrokeshire, went to University in Swansea, works in Cardiff and lives in Cwmbran. Which is her team? Ultimately, the answer is the same answer as it is for everybody else in Wales: her team is who she chooses her team to be. Where she lives, where she works, where she was born are all irrelevant as South Wales is too small to exclude any of the four teams from her support. This is not the same in Ireland. Dublin to Belfast takes close to 2 hours, Dublin to Galway 3 hours, Munster is significantly bigger than the whole of Wales. These are major reason as to why looking at Ireland for a supporter led “regional model” is not a sensible thing to do. In this example, our 30 year old lady could finish work on a Friday evening in Cardiff and make any of the four home grounds by the BBC imposed kick off time of 7.05pm. She couldn’t do that in Ireland without a helicopter. This is why the obsession with branding and the removal of “club names” is a total red herring argument in Welsh rugby. Each of the four should be free to brand themselves as they choose so that they can best maximise their income, rather than pander to some media led nonsense about support lines. If the Newport Gwent Dragons earn more sponsorship (and retail income, if that is what they think) by using that brand then media should respect that and use the proper name. Ditto the other three. The obvious example here is Cardiff. In terms of rugby heritage, that brand is so strong (if not for the other brand alignment of it being Wales’ capital city) that to dilute it would be (and has been) commercial suicide. At this point it is worth remembering that a good commercial sponsor is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. A retail punter is worth about £100. Professional rugby is a bottom line driven venture that must be about maximising income. It is not a community based social inclusion project that is designed to “be available for all” and “exclude nobody”. We don’t have the geographical brands in Wales (because it is so bloody small) to be able to maximise income and maximise inclusion. So how else can our four attract paying spectators through the gate? Well, I’d say that they were doing a pretty good job of it already when you consider their trading conditions. They are not at all in control of the product: they cannot control who they play against, they cannot control their fixture lists, they cannot control their broadcast contracts, they cannot control when their better home grown stars are available to play for them! Yet, three of them still average close to 8,000 crowds. But do they get any praise for this from the Welsh press? No. Which is incredible in itself, but becomes understandable when you realise that the press will not rock the boat which causes the market conditions our four have to trade in. So can more be done to attract support? Obviously, it can. The best way to do this is to be successful as supporters want to follow winners. It’s not about glory hunting, as such, but about wanting the support emotions to ultimately be happy. If we are to invest our time, money and emotions into our sports team then we must expect value in all three and this is how the Ospreys stole a march on the other three some years ago. Good players, “names” that the kids want to see play and be associated with, will attract supporters from wherever. It’s easy to get to the Liberty off the M4, which means that it is easy to get to from wherever in South Wales. The problem from now on is not soccer taking away the existing support base but that support base not getting value from the investment of time, money and emotion. With belts being tightened and the “names” players leaving, what is the incentive to stay on supporting these teams? Why peg it to the grounds for these TV driven kick off times to see sub-standard players delivering poor quality rugby. It’s cheaper and easier to watch it at home. This is how rugby could eat itself. With the talent drain from the professional sides negatively affecting the quality of play, with the knock on effect of our teams losing more often, then it is more and more likely that support will simply drain away to its sofa to watch the game. It won’t leave the game for soccer, but it will leave the game for the sofa. And this won’t just be a problem for the four professional teams. As the WRU loses control over its top players when they move outside of Wales, the fitness levels of these players will be lower when entering the international season and results will suffer, as we know how much emphasis on fitness is key to Gatland’s (and Howley’s) way. In other words, for the sake of the professional game as a whole and in order to keep the present level of support, this top level impasse over finances needs to be broken. The best Welsh players must play in Wales, top overseas players must be attracted and the fixture list amended, or it won’t be soccer killing rugby in Wales but it will be Roger Lewis doing it.

Sink or Swim

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Lewis has gone on record with his opinion (and, at this moment, it is only his unless I’ve missed Pickering’s public approval of that stance) that the WRU should run the entire professional game in Wales.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/20836386

This is quite a claim as there is no infrastructure in place at the WRU to run four additional teams and there doesn’t seem to be a model already in place in any other country for such a North Korean style of set up. In Union “controlled” nations like Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand, each of their teams has its own management structure in a “devolved” manner, but that doesn’t seem to be what Lewis wants.

At the moment, all four of our professional teams have “helpful” ground usage deals. Llanelli paid c.£8m up front for a 99 year lease, the Ospreys make a mint out of their shareholding in the company which runs the Liberty and the other two play at the grounds of their club owners for, basically, a peppercorn rent. But if the WRU owned and ran each of the four teams then I’m pretty sure those ground rents would rise and if you want to see what happens to a rugby club who just rent a ground for matchdays then don’t forget the shambles of the Cardiff City Stadium.

On top of those ground rental deals, the WRU would have to meet all of the staff costs for players and coaches. And then, on top of that, there would need to be something of a centralised administration process if not four separate Managing Directors of each of the four teams.

How does Lewis think that the WRU could afford that on the present figure of c.£15m that is “paid” out of Union “funds” to the four teams? Of course, the WRU would also receive the income through match tickets and sponsorship, but if the four cannot make money out of the present set up then how does Lewis think that the WRU will manage to?

These, of course, are questions that our National Media should be asking of Lewis but, as the link above shows, it was an English broadsheet which carried the story. Lewis has stated that there is no additional money on the table to meet the obvious needs of the professional game, so he must think that he can run the entire game from a central office in Cardiff on a sum of approximately £20m. And at this point, it’s worth remembering that the salary cap in England is approximately £5m for playing staff alone. In France, the cap is over €8m.

All I can see from Lewis is an agenda of disruption to our professional game as he strives to drive away the necessary private finance that should be there to fund growth. Instead of trying to produce a marketplace which allows the four to grow their income through fair use of their best assets, he strangles their income earning potential by overuse of their assets without fair recompense.

The ONLY way Wales will continue to challenge in cross border competitions is if our four teams increase their income to the point where they can retain those top players who want to stay in Wales and to the point where they can again attract talent like Percy Montgomery instead of Jamie Smith, Xavier Rush instead of Robin Copeland, Marty Holah instead of George Stowers and Deacon Manu.

Lewis has created, instead, an environment of ever decreasing returns and ever increasing costs. In the Union’s defence, they have compensated the four with £600k each in order to minimise the playing of non-Welsh players, but that is the only fair thing that I can see out of the last Participation Agreement.

Now is the time for Lewis to be smart instead of an egotist. He should cut the four free, allow them to sign their own broadcast deals, allow them to sign up to their own competitions and to control their own income streams. We need to rid ourselves of the summer test and of the fourth AI. He needs to allow the four to stand on their own two (eight?) feet to see if they sink or swim.

And if they sink, he can step in and take over that side…..

Give Us the Information so that we can decide

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxN5azRtUOA

First of all, everybody needs to look at the above video of the RRW Press Conference at Cardiff Arms Park. It provides a number of useful pieces of information (not least on the breakdown of the money the WRU pays the four professional teams) and shows the quality of the questioning offered by many sections of the Welsh Media.

I may have missed it, but I’m yet to see a mainline paper running the story of how the professional game is financed in Wales. After all, we’re told by the Media that this present stand-off is all about money so why not break the story of where the money comes from and what it is for?

In particular, that press conference delivered us the following gem:

Lets be clear about the £6m first and foremost. The £6m is not for player release. They use that in their statements, but if you look at our Participation Agreement signed in 2009, there is a split in there about what player release is. Out of the £6m, £2.7m is a core grant. Another £2.4m is to keep the non-Welsh qualified player quota down under an agreed limit. Player release is about less than £1.5m, so don’t be misled by statements that say £6m is being paid for player release.

Those are the words of Stuart Gallacher and explain to us, in a nutshell, the entire financial problem at the top end of the game. It shows that each of the four receive under £400,000 per annum for losing their better players to Wales for approximately half of the season. That’s all players, too, including sevens and under 20s, for weeks upon weeks.

Now, not only are those players unavailable to generate income for their employers whilst they are away, but they also require their salary to be paid (and they are often the highest earners at each pro team) AND they require a professional player to be paid to play in their position whilst they are away. A triple blow. And all for £375,000 per annum.

To provide some context for that figure, please read the following:

http://www.espnscrum.com/france-top-14-2012-13/rugby/story/180189.html

That’s right, what the WRU pay for all of that player access won’t even cover the wages of one Jonny Sexton. Or, for some more context, the RFU are paying their players £15,000 PER TEST:http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/jan/17/england-players-new-pay-deal

We can all pick a side on how the game should be financed, run and controlled, but nobody can justify the WRU paying so little for player access.

So there are two obvious questions which come from this revelation yet our press has picked up neither (unsurprisingly):

Question 1: if RRW can reveal this information in a press conference they are happy to be recorded and played on the Ospreys website, why the hell can’t RRW produce a website which includes the entire Participation Agreement? That way, we can all make a judgement for ourselves.

Question 2: the WM have confirmed that they are in favour of Central Contracts. The WRU have confirmed that they are in favour of Central Contracts. Many of the Welsh public are in favour of Central Contracts. But where will the money come from? If the WRU are presently paying only £1.5m a year for player access then that will allow them to contract five James Hooks and nobody else! Also, what is a Central Contract? As Hore points out, SANZAR Unions all run different models, as do Ireland. So how can our wonderful press be in favour of something that seemingly cannot be afforded and, as yet, hasn’t been detailed?

Both sides – give us the information so that we can decide.

Having Your Cake & Eating It

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The reality of the financial situation in Welsh rugby is that the four professional teams cannot earn enough income to be able to match the salaries on offer outside of Wales. The English have a £4.5m salary cap with the allowance of a marquee player whilst the French cap is 52% of a club’s turnover, capped (supposedly, although it prevents circumvention as well as did the Maginot Line) at about €8m. In Wales, the four have set it to £3.5m for the 38 ERC registered players and they can just about afford that.

So, to keep the better players in Wales they need more income.

There is a body of thought which suggests that the four have been pretty poor in generating their own income in recent years and there is some truth to that. None of the four are expert marketers and whilst the Ospreys are the leaders in that field (at least for retail punters) they have gone very much for a price led campaign. I think that the reason for this is that the quality of play on the pitch is pretty poor and most of that play is on free to air TV. So why should anybody, let alone a family, brave a winter’s evening in Wales to throw upwards of £40 at something which is available for free for them in their living room?

A major source of this poor play on the field is the lack of income in the game which, as is now obvious, causes a downward spiral. Poor product = poor income = poorer players = poorer product.

For me, much of the issue of this poor play on the field is the very nature of the League the four play in – the Pro12. It is pretty much designed as a training ground for international players rather than a direct, competitive league. Only two of the dozen teams will not play HEC rugby (if such a thing exists in the future) so there is little pressure on the rest of the teams. The play offs have added some end of season fun but it’s not really anything to get too excited about. There certainly isn’t a pot of gold for the winners which will help our income problem in Wales.

I think, therefore, that the four are in a vicious circle. The league they play in is poor and not commercially attractive, so it generates little interest from the paying supporter (even though crowds are at very decent levels in three of the four) in terms of ticket income and, so therefore, the four don’t have the money needed to invest in their squads in order to attract more income.

This is where I blame the WRU. It designed the Pro12 for its purposes in that it isn’t a testing and gruelling league for Team Wales players, allowing them to be “fresher” than their English and French counterparts at least.

If the WRU wants the four to continue to play in the Pro12 then it must acknowledge that the very nature of that competition prevents the four from being commercially attractive, which means that they cannot earn enough income to keep the better players in Wales. Therefore, the WRU needs to offer better compensation to the four for losing those players for so much of the season. I feel that the WRU could easily afford an additional £2m a year across the four teams and this would be enough, were it dished out on a more fairer basis.

If the WRU refuses to do that then it should allow the four to be commerically free of their market restrictions. The four must be allowed to negotiate their own TV deal(s), they must be allowed to negotiate which competitions they play in and what spoils from those competitions are due DIRECTLY to them. All income from these contracts must no longer pass through the WRU’s books (which they do right now and serve only to improve the turnover figures for the WRU).

To both prevent commercial freedom and to refuse to pay a market rate (set by the RFU) for player access stinks of having your cake and eating it. The four are being squeezed by Lewis and it is time that they went on the front foot about it. We’ve already seen Lewis prevent the Ospreys from playing a money spinning game against Tonga, for example, so it is pretty clear where his priorities lie.

It is time for the WRU to pay their fair way or to cut free their market restrictions. If Lewis wants to control the entirity of professional rugby then letting loose the four might see one of them go bust, allowing him to step in. Or it could just be the making of the game in Wales and put our better teams on an equal footing with Northampton.

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