American football could provide model

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Rugby union was yesterday invited to adopt American football's salary capping system and also to seek backing from international companies. Dan Rooney, the president of Pittsburgh Steelers, speaking at a seminar in London on the state of the game, insisted that salary capping was the only fair system to ensure that no club went broke through exorbitant wage demands, and that the wealthier clubs did not have a bottomless barrel.

"It is important to get everyone on the same wage," said Rooney, who had interrupted a busy schedule to speak at the seminar, organised by Rugby News magazine in association with The Independent.

"The way it works is that the teams pool their gross revenue in a season, and this is shared equally among all 30 teams," Rooney explained. While no maximum wage operates in the NFL there is a minimum level.

Although the salary cap appealed to the Rugby Football Union secretary, Tony Hallett, also at the seminar, he said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce from a legal and practical point of view.

Rooney invited English clubs to seek overseas investment. He claimed the United Kingdom provides more visitors to Disney World in Florida than any other country. He also revealed that the Disney Corporation is in the process of building a sports complex. "You have to deal with international sponsors," he said.

"You have to align yourselves with, for example, telephone companies, breweries, banks and the leisure industry as well as major players such as the Heinz corporation, Disney and Sony. Television has opened the door to advertising and sponsors."

Whether more English clubs have the courage to follow the example of Harlequins and seek international funding - they are sponsored by NEC - remains to be seen but the invitation and opportunity exists.

Seminar report, page 29