RFU to cut quar­ter of staff

Im­pact of Covid-19 will be felt for years to come, says Sweeney Pre­mier­ship clubs braced for steep de­cline in fund­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Rugby Union By Daniel Schofield deputy rugby cor­re­spon­dent

The Rugby Foot­ball Union has re­vealed plans to make 139 staff, around a quar­ter of its work­force, re­dun­dant in the face of a pre­dicted £107mil­lion short­fall in revenue. Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, pre­dicted revenue to drop by a fifth in the long term and said no area of op­er­a­tions would be pro­tected from the cuts.

The Rugby Foot­ball Union plans to make 139 peo­ple, al­most a quar­ter of its staff, re­dun­dant in the face of a pre­dicted £107 million short­fall in revenue.

The sav­age scale of the cuts re­flects how even the sport’s rich­est union has been brought to its knees by the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, with chief ex­ec­u­tive Bill Sweeney pre­dict­ing revenue to drop by a fifth in the long term.

A con­sul­ta­tion process for the re­dun­dan­cies among the RFU’s 580 staff has be­gun and the re­sults will be an­nounced by the end of next month. No area, in­clud­ing the England elite men’s group headed by Ed­die Jones, or the women’s game, will be ring-fenced from the cut­backs.

The RFU had al­ready fur­loughed 60 per cent of its staff and im­ple­mented wide-rang­ing pay cuts, which have ex­tended to Sweeney and Jones. How­ever, Sweeney made clear that these mea­sures alone would not safe­guard the RFU’s long-term fu­ture and whole­sale re­struc­tur­ing was re­quired.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is not enough to run a sus­tain­able op­er­a­tion and safe­guard our fu­ture,” Sweeney said. “We need to main­tain our or­gan­i­sa­tion for the long term, this is not a short-term cost re­duc­tion ex­er­cise, the RFU will still stand, but the im­pact of Covid-19 will con­tinue to af­fect us for many years to come.

“The long-term fi­nan­cial chal­lenges are sig­nif­i­cant for the whole econ­omy. We, like many rugby clubs, rely on revenue from matches and events at Twick­en­ham Sta­dium and we rein­vest this revenue back into the game.

“Our de­tailed sce­nario mod­el­ling shows there may be a short-term im­pact of £107mil­lion in lost rev­enues and we also know there will be a much longer-term ef­fect. We are pro­ject­ing a four-to-five-year re­cov­ery with cu­mu­la­tive revenue re­duc­tions of around 20 per cent. We are hav­ing to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions on what we can con­tinue to in­vest in as well as what is the right size and shape of our busi­ness for the fu­ture.

“To en­sure we have a sus­tain­able RFU we have an­nounced to col­leagues that it is pro­posed that the to­tal num­ber of roles across the or­gan­i­sa­tion will re­duce by 139.”

In the con­sul­ta­tion process, Sweeney has promised to pri­ori­tise three key ar­eas: the com­mu­nity game, the per­for­mance arena (in­clud­ing the elite men’s and women’s teams) and in­tro­duc­ing rugby union at ju­nior level, with a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on in­creas­ing di­ver­sity.

In the last round of cuts in 2018, the RFU made 64 po­si­tions re­dun­dant af­ter post­ing an op­er­at­ing loss of £24.4 million. Although the English union re­turned to prof­itabil­ity in 2019, it was al­ready on course to make a loss this year be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic struck.

Sav­ings will need to be made in other ar­eas, too. The agree­ment for England men’s play­ers’ match fees, which amount to £25,000 a game, has ended. Ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing, but the new rate is ex­pected to be sig­nif­i­cantly lower.

Pre­mier­ship clubs are brac­ing them­selves for a steep de­cline in the cen­tral fund­ing they re­ceive from the RFU through the Pro­fes­sional Game Agree­ment. The first four years of the deal, agreed in 2016, guar­an­teed an an­nual pay­ment of £29 million, but the re­main­ing four years are now tied to the RFU’s rev­enues.

The Pre­mier­ship is close to fi­nal­is­ing the re­main­der of its 2019-20 sea­son, which would in­clude three rounds of mid­week games. With an agreed re­sump­tion date of Aug 15, Pre­mier­ship Rugby did not have enough free week­ends to com­plete its nine re­main­ing rounds and play-offs. Rather than choose to po­ten­tially for­feit tele­vi­sion money by los­ing three rounds, it in­tends to stage mid­week matches in the weeks be­gin­ning Aug 24, Sept 7 and 21.

This will prompt sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns over player wel­fare. Ex­eter Chiefs, Northamp­ton Saints and Sara­cens, who have qual­i­fied for the Cham­pi­ons Cup knock­out stages, could end up play­ing nine times in six weeks. This would in­clude play­ing a Pre­mier­ship game be­tween the Cham­pi­ons Cup quar­ter-fi­nals and semi-fi­nals.

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