If you consider the timeline which points to the Worcester Warriors’ financial uncertainty, the developments are unsettling to stakeholders and Premiership fans alike, ever-changing, and, to a degree, lack clarity.
Details are now emerging of the fashion in how recent Worcester Warriors’ financial uncertainty became common knowledge. As a matter of course, club management and the owners at first did not respond publicly, and only in recent days, has information been filtered to staff (and now into the public realm).
Statements aside, if commercial operations cannot be sustainable – without a monetary saviour so to say – the Premiership Rugby season could require adjustment to the schedule if the club cannot be pulled out of trouble. That is not a fact. Every article crying ‘financial ruin’ is followed by one of ‘we are trying to save the Club’ intentions.
From the outside, what probably looked like impending administration and/or, the liquidation of the Warriors’ holdings is not as certain a possibility but, all is still yet to be confirmed.
Add to that news and evidence that the management group and board authorized changes to the ownership structure over the past four years that may cloud the subject even further. Decisions that just make the view from the outside even murkier. So for the average Worcester supporter, deciphering what is accurate from what is hearsay, will take time to apply.
The clubs’ owners released an internal memorandum to staff, which quickly became public knowledge:
NEW: @WorcsWarriors owners Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring have sent out a detailed statement.
In it they give their explanation for the unpaid taxes, and the club's sale of land, including the car park. Thread of key points: pic.twitter.com/oq9VDSJubN
— James Pearson (@jamespearson88) August 25, 2022
Based on what is known publically, Last Word on Rugby offers a timeline and some valid detail on what has occurred recently. Not necessarily opinion, it is more subjective, prepared so interested readers can absorb this brief explanation and (like us) be prepared for more information to be available as the club manages its costs. The rumour of rescue packages is filtering through the media, and importantly, players react through social media to the furor caused in the community and to their livelihoods.
Worcester Warriors’ financial uncertainty unsettles Premiership fans
Like all other sports clubs, businesses, and enterprises, the Worcester Warriors’ financial position was placed under pressure from the global pandemic. Owners Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring had only been in place since 2019, so the Covid-hit from Lockdown required as much assistance as possible from the private backers, as well as Government assistance.
On the field, the club performed admirably. Ninth place over 2019/20, which became 12th place the next year. Last season was a somewhat difficult one, placing 11th though, a final flourish over the Bath club saw a morale-boosting 43-27 victory at Sixways. It was supported by inclusion in the Challenge Cup for this upcoming season, as well as the announcement in May that Nick Easter would join the club for the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership season.
Undoubtedly, the highlight for supporters was their success in the 2021/22 Premiership Rugby Cup.
Two newsworthy issues were raised in May and June respectively, that may have preseeded the current Worcester Warriors’ financial position.
Firstly, in May the Gloucester club acted to recover lost revenue from the postponed March 2022 fixture. BBC.com reported that after an independent panel rejected Worcester’s pulled out of the March 25 match, claiming a spate of injuries and illness, including Covid-19 cases. But an independent panel rejected Worcester’s argument awarding their opponents a 20-0 win and five points.
Gloucester chief executive Lance Bradley said the impact of Worcester’s decision to cancel was “significant. We refunded all match ticket holders, season ticket holders, box holders, and hospitality guests; all of which resulted in significant financial loss,” Bradley added.
Secondly, the DailyMail revealed several of Worcester’s players were considering legal action after several of the Gallagher Premiership club’s squad were not paid on time for the month of May, Sportsmail revealed. Whether any further action was taken, it painted that club in a negative light just as they had claimed the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Update on Worcester and late payment of player salaries. Those players have now been paid after a ‘short-term cashflow issue’. Situation was resolved on Wednesday morning. Full story @MailSport to follow shortly with statement from the Warriors.
— Alex Bywater (@_AlexBywater) June 9, 2022
When people started to notice something wrong with the Worcester Warriors
Completing the season, from July the club’s players and coaching group approached the build-up to preseason like any other side. External marketing began of the club’s schedule including European Challenge Cup fixtures for December. So ticket sales were encouraged via membership programs that replicated past seasons. No outward appearance of any issues at this time was publicized, however, word out of the Wasps club of issues related to a Bond repayment scheme highlighted how precarious each club operation could find itself in the current climate.
August saw more sponsorship announcements, players preparing for preseason fixtures, and an outward appearance of normality. Yet mid-August, cries of the non-ability of the club to service tax payments were reported by many media outlets. It saw the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) issue a winding-up petition to the club.
Note: the below Tweet’s sources cannot be confirmed by Last Word on Rugby.
On 30/6/2020, Worcester Warriors owed £2.3m in tax and social security
On 31/7/2021, Munster owed the IRFU €6.6m
On 31/7/2021, the IRFU owed €29m in PAYE
— Phil (@RugbyPhilBB) August 18, 2022
According to Gov.uk, you can apply to the court to close or ‘wind up’ a company if it cannot pay its debts. This is also known as compulsory liquidation. How this plays out legally is of concern to all Premiership stakeholders – in relation to many clubs who could find themselves in similar positions.
Note: an interesting perspective on the ownership history can be found here. It helps to explain who has, and who currently has invested in, and must now decide on the fate of the Worcester club. Another source of data is the club-by-club financial analysis shown here.
Rescue packages to save Worcester Warriors financial ruin
Several leading stories are emerging of possible ‘rescue packages’ in attempts to halt any further risk that the Worcester Warriors’ financial crisis could sink the proud West Midlands club. As this article was being produced, several leads were being shared by contributor Robert Rees.
Told by one member of the Jim O'Toole consortium to buy Worcester Warriors that there is "lots going on" but that "it's all positive stuff."
📷 Steve Mawby pic.twitter.com/EF0OduVoSU
— Robert Rees (@Rreesrugby) August 25, 2022
Developing stories involve the likes of Jim O’Toole, James Sandford, and others. Whether they are the silver lining that could envelop the beleaguered club is up in the air. No certainty is clear at the time of publishing – and change is a constant in this story.
As soon as one report is released, others speak differently, and updates on the HMRC action are less apparent, as are whether more creditors have been defaulted on or new sponsors introduced that could bring revenue relief. So purporting to know anything more than what is public knowledge, is the best course of action for sectors of the media to follow – if they respect the stakeholders involved.
One sector affected will be the players and their families.
Worcester Warriors players react on Social Media
Notwithstanding payments and/or, the lack of, the people that this predicament includes are the ones who are the faces of the club. The office staff, security, vendors, plus the all-important playing staff and roster.
— ⚔️ WarriorsRugbyNews ⚔️ (@wrfcnews) August 23, 2022
The term ‘together’ has been widely mentioned. Even in the defined management statement that went to all employees, the impetus is on staying together and showing a united front.
A few players are showing this spirit, plus more. While they are privately concerned for their livelihoods, they show the support base that it is a priority to continue the ideals set down by former owners and by the intentions that current ownership has described.
Before anyone decides to state/complain that I’m slating the reputation of the people that pay our wages… I’m really not! They invested in the club & tried to “create change” so can’t fault that… 1/3
— Ollie Lawrence (@OLawrence1) August 22, 2022
Statements aside, the truth is clearly evident. The club has great support. Membership numbers are not entirely at issue. Promotion of club memberships is in fact still being promoted, so there is no question that if the Worcester Warriors’ financial pressure is abated, the fixtures scheduled should still be played at Siways Stadium.
At the time of publishing, no official decision on refinancing or on the impact of external pressures. That will surely be made public, and when facts are confirmed Last Word on Rugby will follow up on this leading story ahead of the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership season.
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