Sink or Swim

Lewis has gone on record with his opinion (and, at this moment, it is only his unless I’ve missed Pickering’s public approval of that stance) that the WRU should run the entire professional game in Wales.

This is quite a claim as there is no infrastructure in place at the WRU to run four additional teams and there doesn’t seem to be a model already in place in any other country for such a North Korean style of set up. In Union “controlled” nations like Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand, each of their teams has its own management structure in a “devolved” manner, but that doesn’t seem to be what Lewis wants.

At the moment, all four of our professional teams have “helpful” ground usage deals. Llanelli paid c.£8m up front for a 99 year lease, the Ospreys make a mint out of their shareholding in the company which runs the Liberty and the other two play at the grounds of their club owners for, basically, a peppercorn rent. But if the WRU owned and ran each of the four teams then I’m pretty sure those ground rents would rise and if you want to see what happens to a rugby club who just rent a ground for matchdays then don’t forget the shambles of the Cardiff City Stadium.

On top of those ground rental deals, the WRU would have to meet all of the staff costs for players and coaches. And then, on top of that, there would need to be something of a centralised administration process if not four separate Managing Directors of each of the four teams.

How does Lewis think that the WRU could afford that on the present figure of c.£15m that is “paid” out of Union “funds” to the four teams? Of course, the WRU would also receive the income through match tickets and sponsorship, but if the four cannot make money out of the present set up then how does Lewis think that the WRU will manage to?

These, of course, are questions that our National Media should be asking of Lewis but, as the link above shows, it was an English broadsheet which carried the story. Lewis has stated that there is no additional money on the table to meet the obvious needs of the professional game, so he must think that he can run the entire game from a central office in Cardiff on a sum of approximately £20m. And at this point, it’s worth remembering that the salary cap in England is approximately £5m for playing staff alone. In France, the cap is over €8m.

All I can see from Lewis is an agenda of disruption to our professional game as he strives to drive away the necessary private finance that should be there to fund growth. Instead of trying to produce a marketplace which allows the four to grow their income through fair use of their best assets, he strangles their income earning potential by overuse of their assets without fair recompense.

The ONLY way Wales will continue to challenge in cross border competitions is if our four teams increase their income to the point where they can retain those top players who want to stay in Wales and to the point where they can again attract talent like Percy Montgomery instead of Jamie Smith, Xavier Rush instead of Robin Copeland, Marty Holah instead of George Stowers and Deacon Manu.

Lewis has created, instead, an environment of ever decreasing returns and ever increasing costs. In the Union’s defence, they have compensated the four with £600k each in order to minimise the playing of non-Welsh players, but that is the only fair thing that I can see out of the last Participation Agreement.

Now is the time for Lewis to be smart instead of an egotist. He should cut the four free, allow them to sign their own broadcast deals, allow them to sign up to their own competitions and to control their own income streams. We need to rid ourselves of the summer test and of the fourth AI. He needs to allow the four to stand on their own two (eight?) feet to see if they sink or swim.

And if they sink, he can step in and take over that side…..

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