Just in

Rugby’s Premiership – a commercial head-case?

When it comes to one’s specialist subjects, interests and hobbies (not least favourite sports) over the course of decades one’s perceptions of the pertinent issues of any specific moment, as formed by one’s personal impressions and attitudes – taken together with media reports, conversations with other like-minded fans and the opinions of those whose business it is to cover, commentate and/or provide punditry on the same – has an inevitable tendency to become set in stone and leave one sounding like a proverbial “stuck record”.

I know that is how it is for me.

Rugby union as it currently played around the world – in common with every other major competitive sport and pastime – leaves much to be desired in the manner in which it is not only governed and administered, never mind played and refereed, but also in managing its relationships between “club and country”, the conflicting imperatives of thrilling entertainment in what is an elemental physical contact game and, of course, protecting its participants from serious injury, whether traumatic or (in the case of concussion) cumulative over time and, finally,  in presenting its adherents with what at the end of the day is all that spectators ever crave: honest and fair contests in which the “best team on any given day” prevails.

The English Premiership has always been an inherently imperfect league competition which – like many a business sector does when it can – runs upon entirely self-interested lines. Its individual clubs would dearly like it to be a self-contained operation without promotion and relegation – which proposition, of course, is an anathema to 95% of clubs up and down the country at every level of the semi-professional and amateur sectors of the sport, for whom the prospect of one day making it all the way to the pinnacle is central to their dreams and aspirations.

One of the most embarrassing episodes of my life occurred about thirty years ago now, when an American financial “expert” named Bob Beckman used to have a spot on an early morning BBC radio programme.

One Friday he ended his daily discourse by telling listeners they should tune in the following Monday morning if they were interested to learn how to make a small fortune in pig farming.

My husband’s brother-in-law happened to be a pig farmer so over the weekend we contacted him – and indeed a range of other family members – to recommend that they should listen in to learn more about this little nugget of advice.

Come the Monday morning, therefore, together with relatives all around the country, we duly listened to Beckman’s daily ten-minute bulletin. He didn’t start with his advice on pig farming profiteering, in fact it never got mentioned until right at the end when he concluded his piece by stating “Lastly and to finish, on Friday I told you to listen in this morning if you wanted to know how to make a small fortune in pig farming. It’s easy. You start with a big fortune …. and then go into pig farming …”

I needn’t waste much time and space describing my reaction – “desiring the ground to open up and swallow me” didn’t even begin to cover it!

The fact is that, as the Premiership clubs have demonstrated with bells on, despite all their efforts since 1995 – when the sport went professional – to develop its league into a closed shop cartel, with brief periods of exception that prove the rule, no club (or ownership group) has ever made money in professional club rugby in England. I believe the cumulative losses of the thirteen clubs now in the league currently exceed £100 million.

Yesterday, by the skin of their teeth, Worcester Warriors avoided being chucked out of the Premiership because of their de facto insolvency (their players and staff have recently had either to accept reduced wages or not get paid at all) by somehow persuading their local authority to provide a guarantee to the RFU that proper health & safety regulations would be adhered to at their stadium for their home match scheduled for tomorrow.

Rugby union is a potentially world class sport but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that its English rugby Premiership is a Mickey Mouse operation going nowhere with its ostrich head stuck firmly in the sand.







Avatar photo
About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts