The Welsh Rugby Union are actively trying to run the regions into the ground in order to exert more central control and eventually take over their running. There, it’s been said.
News broke from the WRU’s AGM over the weekend that the CVC purchase of 27% of the Guinness Pro14 was close to complete and, worryingly, that the circa £35m it would bring into Wales would not go wholly to the regions, but to the community and women’s game too.
That announcement was made by W. Gareth Davies, the man who fought so valiantly against the WRU as Cardiff RFC CEO during the 1990s, advocating a move to the English system and taking us through the rebel season, only to seemingly be intent on burying us as WRU Chairman. That is a post he was nominated to take by Peter Thomas, interestingly. One wonders whether he would do the same now given the chance.
WGD spoke about “doing what is right for the national team” over the weekend, while club representatives were heard bemoaning “the regions are taking our money”. Attitudes that fail to understand that once the regions fall then so will the fortunes of the national team, and once the national team falls then the community game will die.
Even more worryingly it transpires that any money that is going towards the regions will fill a pot from which 38 Wales players will receive central contracts. An astonishingly selfish move that lacks any sort of foresight when it comes to the future success of both the regions and Team Wales.
For so many reasons it would be a disaster; from the selecting of the players, to the ‘allocation’ to regions, and from the amount of budget each region has to bolster their squads underneath the centrally contracted players, to what happens when all the money CVC have paid, which is effectively on advance on future commercial deals, runs out and 38 players are left needing hefty new contracts.
The money that CVC are buying 27% of the Pro14’s operating company Celtic Rugby DAC with is the regions’ money. Nobody else’s. £200m has been paid for a stake in the league, therefore the money should go to the league’s participants. Nobody other than Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets has a claim to the Welsh proportion of that money. Not the WRU, not the community game, not the women’s game.
CVC will want a return on that money and the way they will get it is by increasing commercial revenues. How will they be able to do that while the regions are withering on the vine?
That of course assumes that even getting the whole amount of money would help us improve. The likelihood is that we would only standstill. The Irish and Scottish sides are getting the same windfall as us, and it doesn’t particularly narrow the gap between us and the English or French sides by any notable margin. It merely allows us to hang on by our fingernails.
This money needs to be used as a basis to allow us to increase our own revenues, whether that is through the improving of the squad to allow for more success and increased sponsorship and ticket sales, or the improving of the ground to bring in more revenue, it has to go directly to the regions as independent business and Pro14 entrants.
Hopefully that will then be matched with CVC increasing the commercial revenue generated by the league as a whole, which is likely to increase competition money even with the private equity firm holding a 27% stake. The best way to do this of course would be via a British League, but CVC will no doubt be able to boost the Pro14 as it is.
To ensure that we are able to take full advantage of this opportunity we require strong and forward thinking leadership at the Arms Park, but still the senior management of Cardiff Blues Ltd continue to hide behind a wall of silence.
Pleas from supporters to be informed of what the plan is for Cardiff Blues, to receive some sort of communication or just to be shown evidence that Richard Holland and/or Alun Jones are in fact still alive, increase by the day, but still they have not surfaced since calls for them to engage began in earnest just over two weeks ago. For what it’s worth, we’ve been advising that this strategy of keeping schtum was ill-conceived for months now.
The Cardiff Blues Board should be fighting to retain our independent status and to ensure that the WRU don’t steal the money paid for the stake in the Pro14. They may need to take legal action in doing so, in which case we would consult our lawyers and the Union theirs. The slight problem is that our Chairman is a partner in the firm that acts for the WRU, but hey ho.
What neither the WRU nor the CBL Board acknowledge is that they are only the guardians of the sport. They don’t own it and they have a responsibility to consult their stakeholders if they plan to make major changes to the financing or structure of the sport. That means asking supporters what they think, and not just the blazers of the affiliate clubs.
It’s not acceptable to simply say, ‘We know best’ or ‘You don’t understand’. Central contracts will have a generational impact on rugby. The history of clubs and the emotional investment of fans in teams is being played with like an accountant knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
Supporters MUST be told what’s going on, what options are being considered, and consulted about any major changes before decisions are made. Stakeholders need to be taken along not treated like they don’t matter or have nothing to contribute. If the powers that be are not careful, fans will vote with their feet and once lost will be lost for ever. As it stands, we are trapped in a silent hole of increasing mediocrity and Union control, with die-hard supporters haemorrhaging away and the motivation to buy tickets to see uncompetitive feeder teams to the national team decreasing by the week.
From ‘world famous brand’ to feeder team in under two decades. What a shambles.