Bath bracing themselves for a fund-raising frenzy

Steve Bale on how England's top club are tackling rugby union's new order
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The Independent Online
Rugby clubs across the land may be quaking at the prospect of having to pay people whose services they had previously taken for granted but at Bath, perennially England's most successful club, their welcome for rugby union's new, openly professional dispensation is disarmingly unequivocal.

This does not mean they have a clue how they will proceed into this glorious new era, though a start was made when officers met last night. Only yesterday Jeremy Guscott, Bath's most marketable player, said he did not expect to be paid for club rugby, whereas John Quin, the pragmatic Bath secretary, is already pondering a scale of payment and how the cash will be distributed.

Not that the cash actually exists. The first problem faced by Bath, the rest of the First Division and beyond is raising a vast extra income to sustain a professional game. Given the sums generated by international matches, the acceptance of professionalism by the International Rugby Board council should pose no insoluble difficulties to national unions but the way ahead for even the biggest clubs, such as Bath and Leicester, is fraught with uncertainty.

"I am full of anxieties, because I just don't know how we are going to set about this," Quin said. "But it was a very bold move that went further than we ever anticipated and it's our responsibility to make the thing work. Fortunately we've been acting on the assumption that something major was about to happen, so we can't say we've been taken by surprise."

So how to raise the money? Last season Bath's profit of pounds 78,664 was handsome by their standards but already it has been committed to improvements at the Recreation Ground which, with its setting amid the city's Georgian splendour, is both the club's glory and millstone. A 15,000 all-seater stadium would precisely fill the bill but significant development of the present 8,500 city-centre facility is practically impossible.

Sponsorship is an obvious option, though Bath has only just concluded what it thought was a lucrative deal (approaching pounds 500,000) with Allied Domecq, the drinks firm that had already lent the name of one of its products to the new Teacher's stand at the Rec. "We may have to go further into sponsorship," Quin said. "We would have to sit down with our main sponsors and talk to them, tell them the goalposts have been moved and ask them how we go about it."

One can imagine how Allied Domecq might feel about that, just as one can imagine how supporters would feel if they suffered a price-hike to finance the newly professional objects of their affections. This season the club had held the cost of a stand membership at pounds 90, ground membership at pounds 50 and entrance to non-members at pounds 7 with a pounds 3 transfer to the stand.

Quin points out that these are modest demands when compared with football, a professional sport of rather longer standing. "It's very sensitive but let's be realistic," he said. "An Aston Villa fan was telling me it costs him pounds 20 every time he goes and sits down at Villa Park and I'm afraid Bath supporters are going to have to have at the back of their minds that one way may be that we have to look at our prices again."

For now the amount that needs to be raised remains unquantifiable, though it appears to be accepted at Bath that a player with Guscott's profile, for example, could reasonably expect pounds 30,000 from a club contract. If, therefore, Bath operate a first-team squad of 30 on a sliding-scale averaging pounds 20,000 or perhaps pounds 25,000, they have an annual bill - on top of all the existing commitments - of pounds 600,000 or even pounds 750,000, more than the one- off fund-raising for the new stand.

Nor will it end there. The death of amateurism applies to everyone, including John Quin, who does anything in the game. "What the players have to realise is that, whereas we had administrators within clubs supporting unpaid players in an unpaid capacity, now they are going to change their attitude to giving up so much of their free time." He could well have been talking about himself.

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