4th Dimension

Tony Copsey shares his views with Rugby 247

Ahead of the new season, Copsey Consultancy director Tony Copsey spoke to Rugby 247 about his views on the state of the game in all of the home nations.

With the Lions currently touring Australia and celebrating 125 years of being in existence, it is a good time to reflect on the health of British & Irish Rugby. Certainly the up-and-coming tests in Australia will serve as a good barometer of playing strength when the best in British & Irish Rugby stand against some of the best the Southern Hemisphere has to offer.

Off the field this year’s tour is set to be the most successful in the illustrious history of the Lions. Despite costs of £14m, it still promises to be the most profitable tour yet, with revenues up 30% on the tour to South Africa in 2009. This is somewhat heartening, given that, when the sport went professional over a decade ago, the mere existence of the Lions was in severe doubt.

So what of the home unions and the clubs themselves?

Despite having fewer players on this tour than there have been in a while, the sport of rugby in England could be on the verge of an upturn in fortunes – an outlook that is not shared by the Celtic nations.

Starting with Wales, who have the biggest contingent in the tour party, the WRU announced back in September 2012 its best ever financial results, with a turnover of over £63m and profit increased to £27m. This certainly built upon the on-field success of the national side – reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup and having won four Six Nations with three grand slams in the last nine years.

Unfortunately the Welsh regions of the Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons are not faring so well. On the field the regions have had success in the Pro12, but very little in the Heineken Cup since Cardiff made the final in the first ever year of the competition way back in 1996.

Off the field matters are even worse. The recently commissioned report from PricewaterhouseCoopers by the WRU & regions stated: “The historical financial performance shows the four regional businesses are not sustainable on a standalone basis in their current form without continued additional funding from benefactors or alternative funding sources.”

Nothing new there, you may say. However, the report went on to say that the funding gap rose from £2m in 2008 to £5.2m in 2011. This gap currently met by benefactors is seen as totally unsustainable. The projection for 2013 is a surplus of £0.5m which was largely budgeted due to the implementation of a salary cap of £3.5m. However, those close to the game feel that this is extremely optimistic.

The current standoff between the regions and the WRU over funding, management and control of the elite end of the game in Wales is of great concern. The deadlock centres on the formation of a Professional Regional Game Board and its running. One meeting took place in December, however, since the deadlock, no more have happened.

The regions are struggling and, with Cardiff FC now joining Swansea FC in the Barclays Premiership and the success of soccer right on their doorstep, face some of the most testing times ever. They will need firm direction and action now or face the threat of extinction.
What of the other Celtic nations, Ireland and Scotland?

In Ireland concerns are largely centred on the return of the on-field success of recent times and the further development of their regions – this, however, against a backdrop of not only the toughest recession the country has ever seen but also an Irish government initiative that could see all rugby shown on terrestrial TV rather than pay-per-view. Projections show that this would wipe off some €12m of revenue from the union – a 20% loss in revenue.

Scotland, with only three players in the starting squad for the Lions, is suffering from a current lack of success on the field from its national side and regions. The relatively new board and executive team at the SRU face a huge challenge as they try to deliver on their strategic vision published last year. This stated an aim of winning the World Cup in 2015, further reducing their debts and increasing revenues, attendances and participation at all levels.

As for England, the financial landscape is good. Despite announcing losses of £6.3m in November of last year, the RFU still turns over £119m (the largest of any union in the world) and made profits in 2011 of £8.7m. These last results are reported as expected and the £76m upgrade of Twickenham has gone ahead. The RFU have the 2015 World Cup to look forward to, which is a huge opportunity to not only maximise revenues but also grow the sport substantially.

Premiership Rugby is equally in good health with the recent renewal of the title sponsorship with Aviva. In 2010 the company paid £20m for a four-year deal, and this three-year extension is understood to show a 20% increase. Premier Rugby’s lucrative £152 million four-year deal with BT Sport to show Aviva Premiership and European matches eclipses any previous TV rights deals in Rugby Union.

This latter deal with BT Sport sent shock waves through European rugby and caused a serious rift which has yet to be resolved. The English clubs will leave the European Rugby Cup (ERC) set-up at the end of the 2013/14 season. They are seeking an alliance with the French clubs as well as the leverage of broadcasting games from that territory. This will severely increase the English clubs’ chances of initiating widespread changes throughout the sport in Europe and further increase their revenues.

So England may not have the lion’s share of the starting team for the first test against Australia, but it would appear that they are about to enter a period of all-round growth which their Celtic cousins can only look upon in envy.