A ‘task force’ of Premiership Rugby clubs are ‘confident’ of securing a rescue package from the government to ease the crippling financial impact of Covid-19.
Owners and senior management at many Premiership clubs have spoken out about the grave financial implications of a possible further six months of playing behind closed doors, having already survived for a similar period without fans coming through the turnstiles.
Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom said the new government guidelines were a ‘disaster’ for Premiership clubs and that ‘nobody will be able to sustain this’. Exeter Chiefs chairman and chief executive said they are losing £1m a month, adding ‘clubs financially are going to be dead’.
One of the leading voices fighting the corner for Premiership Rugby is Wasps CEO Stephen Vaughan.
“We’re having some really positive dialogue on that and what packages will be available,” he said. “Not just Wasps, by the way, this is on behalf of the whole of the Premiership, to get people solvent, to get people positive again, and then working more importantly getting people back into stadiums as soon as we can.”
He added: “I am confident that we’re going to get a package, that makes sure that rugby is going to continue in this country. The grave consequences of it not are massive. Not just in terms of what it means for supporters, but what it does for the economies in all the areas where, the lifeblood of the game, the community game, the health and well-being prospects. There’s so many areas where I don’t believe for a second the government can let this happen, and I do believe the sensible approach will prevail at some stage. We know that, as Harlequins have proven, as Gloucester have proven, it’s very easy to put games on with reduced attendances.”
Mr Vaughan also told CoventryLive earlier this week that he hopes to host fans at the Ricoh Arena for an event around the Premiership semi-final, should Wasps qualify, using one of the stadium’s many suites.
He explained how Wasps ‘might differ to many other teams in English rugby’s top flight’ due to three quarters of the Wasps Group business coming from ‘non-sporting entities’.
In a story recently published by the Guardian, it was claimed that Wasps could be losing up to £500,000 per month if fans remain behind closed doors. Their last set of published accounts pre-Covid-19 for the six-month period in the second half of 2019 revealed a £4.99m loss – with the main contributing factor being a £2m fall in sporting income.
The implications of potentially playing behind closed doors, for all Premiership clubs, remain a harrowing prospect.
“We’ve seen the impact that will have and there’s conversations going on,” said Mr Vaughan. “There’s certain sports clubs, not just in rugby, saying we won’t be able to see that out.
“Whether you’re a kitchen-fitting business or a greengrocers or a sports business, nobody can go a year with high costs and no revenues, however, the reality is that there are lots of things going on that are positive.
“There’s some really good conversations with the government to get some support. Not just in terms of financial. That’s important, clearly, but financially is only one part of it. The plan to get people back into stadiums is equally, if not more important, because that is the lifeblood, the longevity of this whole thing. Nobody just wants bailouts and handouts, or interest-free loans or whatever the scenario ends up looking like.”
The aim now for Mr Vaughan, Wasps and Premiership rugby, is to ‘stop the rot’.
“There is not one club saying screw you, we want to keep it as it is, or screw you, we want to do this,” he explained. “Everyone is working together. What is the most creative solution? Starting at normal, to getting this show back on the road as soon as we can and the best way that we can. Whether that’s Bristol with a billionaire owner, or whether that’s a London Irish or whoever, everyone is on the same page.
“Club owners like at Exeter, who have always been lauded as a well-run club, they’re telling you it is costing them a million pounds a month at the moment to run the business with no people coming in. They can’t continue to do that, nobody can. So we’ve got to stop the rot somewhere. So we’ve created this task force with the government to make sure we can get something sensible done.”