Baxter: Clubs that serve communities will just disappear with zero finance
Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, Rob Baxter, has warned of “sports clubs that are just going to disappear as businesses as they cannot be run on zero finance”, following the decision to put on hold plans to allow fans back into stadiums.
Exeter play their European Champions Cup semi-final tie against Toulouse at Sandy Park on Saturday behind closed doors, but had been due to welcome 1,000 fans against London Irish next Wednesday with their Gallagher Premiership match a designated test event. The club described the decision to shelve that plan as a “huge blow”.
Chairman Tony Rowe believes that several clubs could go bust by Christmas, although Exeter themselves are in good shape “to weather the storm”. Baxter admitted many others would not be as fortunate.
“It doesn’t take a genius to have concerns,” said Baxter. “Outside of professional sport, a lot of sports clubs that provide community service are just going to disappear. You can’t run businesses on zero finance. We will see clubs coming under pressure and let’s hope there is a genuine concern taken by government in how they aim to help us.
“I am a director [here at Exeter] sitting on the board, so I see the financial predictions and those things are under pressure when people are either in semi-lockdowns or venues aren’t allowed to open.
“There is pressure on us financially. We think we will be fine, though. We are a stable business. We have got things in the pipeline.”
Exeter are the only Premiership club to operate at a profit, but they recognise that their future wellbeing is also based on those without profitable revenue streams or on those in the community game that depend on the fortunes of the Rugby Football Union for their income.
Baxter has profound fears for their future after Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney announced on Tuesday that he was expecting a 60 per cent downturn in funding for the game at large, with grim forecasts of a £138million reduction in revenue at Twickenham if no fans can attend games.
“Sport is a huge part of the country’s culture that we can’t just let slip by without taking action,” said Baxter, who acknowledges just how dependent Exeter are on the feeder network of local clubs. “We take a great deal of pride in our relationship with local clubs.”
Stable: Rob Baxter expects Exeter Chiefs to survive, but knows other clubs might not be so fortunate