At a time when northern hemisphere club rugby takes a backseat to the RBS Six Nations, the Top 14 has ‘stolen all the headlines’. It has been announced that the two Parisian clubs, Stade Français and Racing 92 will merge from next season. Will they be plus forts ensembles or become an unloved franchise that puts off both clubs’ supporters? Last Word on Rugby looks at the business case for the Stade Français Racing 92 merger, and why this surprise news has come about.
When organisations merge it is normally on the basis of costs savings that can be made or due to greater opportunities available to larger scale companies. But the new club will still only be one squad that sends 15 players out on matchday. The combined squad inevitably cannot contain all the current Racing and Stade players. In any case this wouldn’t be possible even with the Top 14’s generous salary cap. The reality as with business mergers is that jobs will be lost. This extends to the off-field staff that will probably not get a mention in all the coverage. These losses are normally packaged as efficiency gains but these aren’t clubs who are struggling financially, particularly Racing 92.
Merger or Takeover?
When business deals are reported the terminology is often confused. For example the recent corporate bid by Kraft to takeover Unilever it was often reported as a merger. In this case it is very clearly being presented as a merger. On paper this seems plausible. These two are the last two winners of the Top 14 and both have long illustrious histories. It is not one club coming in to rescue another. Indeed both are having pretty poor seasons and Stade sit just above the relegation zone. On the other hand Racing have the bigger financial clout and the star-studded squad. It is Racing chairman Jacky Lorenzetti who is financing a €400m new stadium, the U Arena, to be opened in late 2017. This will surely trump the Stade’s Jean-Bouin ground, only renovated in 2013.
Within hours of the announcement it is clear that Stade Français players in particular are unhappy. There are even rumours they may strike ahead of their next league game. One tweet from prop Rabah Slimani laments “how to kill a whole story, a whole club. The players, the coaches, the administrative staff also. All the youngsters and supporters”. Another from second row Pascal Papé urged supporters to show their love of the club at the stadium.
With the news that Racing 92 & Stade Français are to merge, we've put together a combined XV.
What should they be called? pic.twitter.com/EoxunrsyG1
— Lovell Rugby (@lovellrugby) March 13, 2017
The Fans Perspective
This merger will come into effect from next season. In a big stroke of irony the clubs’ penultimate league game will be against each other at the end of April. Who knows how hostile the sets of supporters will be towards one another by then. Rugby prides itself on the lack of violence between sets of fans but this may be tested at the Jean-Bouin. Regionalisation in Wales has alienated a significant section of the rugby public and the Parisian fanbase may be more unforgiving. But with top tier rugby concentrated in the south of the country there is little alternative in the capital.
It is probably also not of any comfort to supporters that Stade chairman Thomas Savare has admitted “we are not ready and we do not have a name”. Deals that come as shock announcements could be interpreted as rushed.
Everyone involved with the Stade Français Racing 92 merger will be hoping this is not the case.
Both sides continue their respective Top 14 campaigns. With the final matches of this years Six Nations to be played this weekend, Round 21 will kick-off on March 23: Castres host Stade Français, while Racing face Montpellier on the road. Follow all the Top 14 action here with Last Word On Rugby.
“Main photo credit”