Rugby Plans Path Through Financial Survival

World Rugby is looking to see how it can best use the windfall from last year’s Rugby World Cup to assist nations faced with financial difficulties resulting from the shutdown of sport through the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Thankfully the sport got the tournament away with all the revenue from sponsorship and broadcast being locked down before the crisis hit.

Earlier this week the body held a virtual meeting of its executive and Professional Game Committees to discuss the crisis and what it could do to help.

Various reports have emerged of losses ranging from an estimated €10 million in Ireland to north of €50 million across England, Australia and New Zealand.

Pay cuts have been agreed with staff and players to defer more serious measures in the short term but with no horizon in sight on a return to action and with this being the end period of the season in the Northern Hemisphere the problems are obvious.

Speaking to the Irish times yesterday, IRFU CEO Philip Browne said that the cash from the sale of land at Newlands Cross in 2018 had been used to buy the IRFU’s HQ building in Ballsbridge though this does give another asset, along with its paid off ownership of the majority share in the Aviva Stadium, with which to go to the market, if needed.

In addition, the land bank could yet yield another major windfall. At the time of the sale for €27 million it was agreed that should it be rezoned within ten years that the IRFU would gain an additional 44 per cent of the commercial value of the land at that point, less what had been paid already.

It is far from cash in the bank but it is the kind of promissory note that almost every other sport would give their eye teeth for.

It might be needed as provinces hold their breath over the resumption of the Guinness PRO14 and the Heineken Champions’ Cup, and clubs in the Energia AIL count the cost of the loss of the end of the season and the big paydays from the Finals at the Aviva Stadium, as well as sponsorship and membership revenue as the economic crisis bites.

Another positive is that Vodafone and Aviva have long term partnerships in place and among other sponsors, Aldi is one of the brands that is insulated in part from the economic storm that is brewing.

In terms of the bigger international picture, there is also the question of CVC or potentially other Venture Capital investment in the Six Nations. Rejected last year after a long and split debate, the idea of maintaining free to air access and engagement with the mass population may now be seen as less important than the financial survival of key rugby nations.

“These are very difficult and entirely unprecedented times for society and sport,” said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont earlier in the week.

“Our primary and immediate responsibility is to ensure the health and wellbeing of the global rugby community and to collectively support those in need.”

“The latest projections are that the impact of COVID-19 on public and sporting activities could extend for many more weeks, maybe months, and this productive meeting was an important and unified step towards tackling a global problem together in the best interests of all stakeholders.”

“We are intensively examining scenario planning for the scheduled July internationals, should such a plan be required, while also considering ways to optimise the international competition calendar on and off the field for all when it is safe and appropriate to resume rugby activities. This important work will be undertaken by the World Rugby executive under guidance from the Executive Committee and we will work in full partnership with key stakeholders to explore potential appropriate actions.”

Those ‘appropriate actions’ may be seen in a different light now than they were last year, but if they make the difference in the financial survival of the sport, then they will have to be taken.

Thank heavens that the Rugby World Cup was not derailed by typhoons.

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