From Last Word on Rugby, Sam Pardey
Major Issues In The English Rugby Championship
Jersey Reds have announced that they have sold off their assets to make it to the end of the season. The English Rugby Championship club’s financial situation sums up just one of the many issues facing the second tier of English Rugby. Whilst the Aviva Premiership is going from strength to strength, below that level English Rugby is in tatters. So, what’s going wrong?
Lack of Finance
Jersey Reds are the second Championship side to hit financial issues this season. London Welsh are facing a High Court winding-up order.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) currently invest just over £500,000 per year in each Championship side to help them cover costs. This money, however, is needed to cover player costs, grounds, coaching staff, medical costs and more. Jersey chairman Mark Morgan told the BBC in September that the RFU money only covers a quarter of the costs.
What other investment do they get? Very little, really. Much of the money in modern elite sport comes from television coverage. In the Championship, though, games are rarely televised meaning little or no income for the clubs. As well as this, ticket sales do not provide a solid revenue stream. Low attendances throughout the league mean that gate money cannot be relied on to sustain clubs. Because of these two factors, clubs cannot gain as much money from sponsorship. Business will only be willing to pay big money in return for high exposure. Low attendances and little TV coverage mean that reach is hard to get. This creates an endless cycle of financial instability for second tier clubs.
Unless the RFU are willing to invest more into lower level rugby, it is hard to see this cycle being ended. Thus, more and more clubs will surely face financial meltdown.
Growing Gap with Premiership
Added to their financial woes, there is also a growing gap between the Premiership and the Championship in terms of quality.
One need look no further than Bristol Rugby for a case study on this fact. The West-Country outfit had been on the verge of promotion for several years before finally reaching their goal last season. They were also one of the most financially stable clubs in the Championship. For the last five years, they have been focused on achieving promotion and planning for the Premiership. Now they are there, yet they haven’t won a game in the league this season. That a club can go from being so dominant in one league to so far off the pace in another shows the difference between the two.
On the flip side, London Irish looked poor and went down last season. Having been relegated, they have cantered into a lead in the Championship and look set to be in the playoff’s come the end of the season. Whilst a relegated team would expect to be challenging in a lower division, this further proves the gap in quality between the two leagues.
The third major issue facing the Championship is player welfare. Due to the lack of financial resources, most players are paid a pittance. Many second-tier players have second jobs simply to survive. Given the brutal nature of modern rugby, the players are not compensated nearly as well enough as they need to be for putting their bodies on the line every week. In the Premiership, the vast majority of rugby players are now extremely well paid for their work. In the Championship, some are struggling to make ends meet.
There have been many newspaper inches recently dedicated to the problem of concussion in rugby. It is a dangerous sport, with serious consequences. How can it be right that some are paid as little as £6,000 a year given the risk?
Strong Governance Needed
The three issues mentioned are just some of a plethora of difficulties facing lower tier rugby currently. The RFU therefore has a very, very big role to play.
More finance needs to be injected into the second tier and below. This will give clubs stability, allow them to compensate the players properly and allow the quality of rugby to increase. Unless this happens, the game below Premiership level runs a very real risk of being left behind.