Leading clubs look to the money men

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

DAVID LLEWELLYN

Saracens took a major step on the road to professionalism when their members voted unanimously at a meeting in Southgate last night for the club to become a limited company. This has now opened the way for the businessman, Nigel Wray, effectively to buy the North London club, and the proceeds of the sale - a minimum of pounds 2.5m - will be used to help them secure their future.

Wray, executive chairman of City property company Burford Holdings plc, which has been valued at pounds 370m, is himself a former player with Old Millhillians and Hampshire.

Saracens have followed Newcastle, whose chairman, Sir John Hall, has poured money into the club, and have beaten some of the top clubs in the land.

However, Bath are also reported to have found a major investor and have sent a letter to all 4,000 members asking for the go-ahead to sell to a millionaire backer. It seems it may have been the West Country club who placed an advertisement in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago asking for a wealthy backer. Bath expect to know the outcome of their mail shot by Thursday.

Deals such as these will help clubs make the transition to professionalism a less painful affair especially since yesterday English First Division Rugby Ltd, which represents the 10 First Division clubs and Northampton, claimed the clubs would initially need pounds 1m each to fund the introduction of the professional game.

EFDR yesterday unveiled their report into how they think the professional game should be run and how professionalism should be controlled. They sent a copy of it to the Rugby Football Union a couple of weeks ago for consideration by the commission, in the hope that some, if not all, of their ideas would be adopted. The RFU commission publishes its report tomorrow.

EFDR envisaged raising the money by persuading the RFU to give each club pounds 500,000 from their television monies for European and domestic competitions, with the clubs then raising the balance through, for example, sponsorship, perimeter advertising and collectors' cards of players - an idea borrowed from football's Premiership which raised pounds 2m in a season.

The EFDR paper set up three working parties to look into marketing and RFU representation: competition and the structure of the season; players' contracts, registrations and transfers. On the subject of transfers Wheeler, the former England captain and hooker and now president of League champions Leicester, said: "I think transfers will go over the pounds 100,000 mark very quickly."

The EFDR wants a regulatory body to control player movement and they also want to see a fixed scale of fees introduced, although they are aware that such a ruling would be subject to English and European law. Players would be allowed a payment of between five and 10 per cent of any transfer fee. They have drawn a great deal on football's example and want a transfer deadline. When it comes to player contracts, which they want to be between club and player rather than country and player, they have studied examples from rugby league, cricket and football.

Clubs are already considering signing up their players to keep them out of the clutches of predatory clubs such as Newcastle and more recently Harlequins. The Northampton coach, Ian McGeechan, revealed yesterday that Quins, who have just had a pounds 50,000 offer to England lock Martin Bayfield turned down by the player, have not given up. "Martin has been put under quite considerable pressure with the persistence of Quins," McGeechan said. "It's a lottery at the moment with no contracts being allowed."

Wheeler does not expect to find the EFDR in full agreement with the RFU commission but he hopes Twickenham will have considered carefully the proposals in the clubs' report. He said: "We want the competition structure in which the clubs are taking part to be run professionally and we want full involvement in that."

n The former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings last night accused the Scottish of wanting their players "on the cheap". Hastings claims the SRU is looking to pay squad members pounds 20,000 per man, compared to the pounds 100,000 a man which he believes New Zealand players will earn when the Scots tour there next summer.

THE PROPOSALS OF THE ENGLISH FIRST DIVISION CLUBS

n English First Division Rugby Ltd to be collective voice for clubs

n all monies raised from TV rights and sponsorship to be shared equally among First Division clubs

n no TV contracts or sponsorship deals affecting First Division clubs to be negotiated by RFU without involvement of EFDR

n reschedule Five Nations' Championship putting it back to end of season

n European League to follow domestic competition

n only one contract per player, between club and player

n standardised form of contract, along the lines of football/rugby league

n no limits on payments or term of contracts

n compensation for club when a player of theirs is incapacitated while on international duty

n current registration period will be deemed a restraint of trade

n limit on number of non-EEC players per team

n regulatory body for transfers

n fixed scale of fees according to standard of player

n transfer deadline

n limit of transfer activity involving top grade players

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