Peter Bills: Premiership faces cull in harsh financial times

There is, according to a well placed source close, a “better than 50/50 chance” that the English Rugby Premiership will have two clubs less by the start of next season.

Bristol and Newcastle are said to be the likely casualties of these increasingly harsh financial times. Bristol are thought to need a major cash injection of up to £1.5m a season into the club. In times such as these, finding someone with that sort of spare cash is about as likely as unearthing the odd gold bar when you’re digging up your Christmas sprouts in the back garden allotment.

Newcastle are in similarly serious financial difficulty. They have already unloaded high wage earners like England internationals Toby Flood and Matthew Tait, saving themselves hundreds of thousands in the process. Now there is talk of New Zealander Carl Hayman, the highest wage earner in the entire English Premiership at £350,000 a year (Worcester’s Australian full-back Chris Latham runs him close in the earning stakes at £325,000 a year), returning home a year before his contract is due to expire.

Furthermore, the club’s ground has been bought from its owners Northern Rock (aka HM Government), by the University of Northumbria and Newcastle’s future is uncertain, especially as the club is not exactly rushing to renew the contracts of those players whose deals expire next summer. For them, there is worrying uncertainty.

Owner Dave Thompson has wanted out for some time but has been unable to find someone willing to take it on. If only the club’s original professional backer, Sir John Hall, had listened to real rugby men who knew all along that Newcastle would never sustain a successful professional rugby club on a long term basis. The place is, always has been and always will be soccer daft. Rugby is a strictly minority interest sport. But it has taken millions of wasted pounds for a succession of owners to discover what knowledgeable rugby folk could have told them all along.

The truth is, financial reality is starting to bite in English rugby, just as it is everywhere else. But one considerable chink of light in the growing darkness is the contract the English Premiership clubs’ have negotiated with a combination of Sky and Setanta for a three year deal which will start in September 2010.

The contract represents a 40 per cent increase on the previous one, which was solely with Sky. The arrival of Setanta, a growing force in the TV sports market and an impressive one too, has enhanced the value of the deal considerably.

However, between the end of 2008 and September 2010, expect a lot more financial pain to become apparent in English Premiership rugby. Bath are said to be likely to lose around £350,000 this season, which is light years away from the idea of their owner Andrew Brownsword, who prefers not to have to put any of his own money out on the rugby club.

The only solution to this contraction of finance is a shrinking of the Premiership, and that will suit those clubs that do survive because they will get a bigger, juicier share of the financial pot if there are two less clubs in existence.

And there is another irony likely to arise from this situation. Growing concerns over finance are forcing those old warring factions, the RFU and PRL, the English clubs’ body, to come together and discuss deals of mutual financial interest. “It’s quite extraordinary” said my source, “but the game could come out of this financial crisis better and with greater cohesion than it ever enjoyed in the years of prosperity.”

Ironic indeed….

But there might be another scenario some financially pressed clubs may need to look at in the near future: amalgamations or takeovers. Sale, for example, look vulnerable now that Phillipe Saint-Andre has announced he is quitting next May. Star players like New Zealand centre Luke McAlister and Frenchman Sebastien Chabal may also leave, especially if the club is keen to cut its costs, which means reducing a sizeable wage bill.

The overall feeling among the Premiership clubs is that only those with deep financial pockets will and indeed deserve to survive. “If a club’s finances are not soundly based, things must take their natural course” one Premiership Director told me, with an icy chill to his voice.

In other words, the survival of the fittest…………

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam