Following discussions with Championship clubs over the past week, the RFU has outlined a restructured funding arrangement.
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “RFU funding over the next two seasons will have a greater proportion going to clubs for the 2020/21 season, resulting in a reduction of £135,000 rather than the £220,000 per club in the original proposal.
“We listened to feedback from the clubs and wanted to find a funding solution that would lessen the impact for the 2020/21 season.
“We haven’t taken this issue lightly and we understand the repercussions, and what a reduction in funding means to the clubs and the players and all involved. We have told the clubs that we are here to help them through the transition in any way we can.
“In addition to funding discussions we want to work together as a group to define the role of the Championship. We need to have clear joint goals for the League and be sure of the benefit we’re getting from our investment in it. We are committed to exploring commercial opportunities to make the League more self-sustaining.”
“The clubs met yesterday to talk about the phased reduction. Although we have yet to hear back formally from the Championship Executive, a number of clubs have contacted us directly to provide feedback. We look forward to further discussion with the executive in the near future.”
RFU CEO Bill Sweeney explains Greene King IPA Championship funding changes
Why has the RFU decided to reduce funding to the Championship?
The RFU, like any organisation, has to make difficult decisions about where and how our money is spent for the benefit of the overall game, both professional and community. To focus spending against our strategic priorities we have to make some hard choices to ensure that we are getting the best return on our investment.
The role of the Championship has changed and we have reassessed our funding based a number of factors but significantly the contribution it has to player development. England Academy Player (EAP) numbers have declined in the Championship due to the changes to the Premiership Rugby Shield, EAPs playing in the Shield are four times more than in the Championship. EAP numbers in National One have been higher than in the Championship for the past four seasons and those numbers are forecast to continue to drop in the Championship.
The Championship will continue to play a very important role for young EQPs (England Qualified Players) to develop their skills but it is no longer the primary place for talent ID and development of future England players.
To recognise this, we will continue to support the Championship with £4.9m of funding in 20/21 and a phased reduction in 21/22. We are keen to work with the clubs to see what else can be done to generate commercial interest and support for the League to make it financially self-sustaining, which it isn’t currently.
What is the RFU doing to support the clubs through this transition?
We have had many discussions and meetings with the clubs over the past week and have said that we want to support them through this change. We’ve therefore, this week, offered a restructured funding arrangement that would see more of the funds available in the first year to ease immediate pressure for next season. We’ve committed to funding the Championship over the next two years – rather than the initial one year period. This phased approach means that the reduction in the first year of 20/21 is now £133,000 compared to the initial £220,000 per club.
What is the future for the league?
In addition to funding discussions we want to work together as a group to define the role of the Championship. We need have clear joint goals for the league and be sure of the benefit we’re getting from our joint investment. We are committed to exploring commercial opportunities to make the league more self-sustaining. The league benefits from some very passionate and wealthy benefactors and we want to work them to develop a stronger business model for the league.
The reaction from the clubs and fans has been very strong this week.
Yes it has and we expected it; making decisions in sport means that you are dealing with people’s emotions. We haven’t taken this issue lightly and we understand the repercussions, and what a reduction in funding means to the clubs, the players and all involved. We have told the clubs that we are here to help them through the transition in any way we can.
Why did you increase funding in 2015?
The Rugby World Cup at home in 2015 was commercially very successful and the Championship received a 100% increase against a set of RFU identified objectives which have not been realised, for various reasons. However, the commercial environment has been very challenging over the past two years across our three main areas of revenue – Broadcasting, Sponsorship, and Hospitality – and we have had to take a hard look at where and how we spend our money across both the professional and community game and ensure we are getting a real benefit.
If we take out the 100% increase to the Championship in 2015, the Championship funding, as a result of this reduction, has decreased by 3% compared to 15% in the professional game and 5% in the community game from 2015 to 2020.
Will these changes prevent a Championship club from being able to gain promotion to the Premiership?
The reality is that there is already a significant gap in expenditure between Premiership and Championship clubs. However, we don’t see his as pulling up the drawbridge. If a club wants to invest in its infrastructure and its squad and has ambition to play in the Premiership and sustain performance to stay in the Premiership, it can. The promotion and relegation mechanism for that to happen still exists. The difference between what we currently fund and will fund next season is not going to make the difference as to whether that happens or not for clubs.
There is an ambition among a few Championship clubs to do this, but we are aware that there are a large number of clubs who are happy with the level at which they are operating.
Will this put clubs out of business?
We don’t believe that it will. The reduction in funding next season will be around £133,000 per club and is above the level clubs received prior to 2015, so they’ve worked within similar financial parameters before. These are great clubs with tremendous histories and we want to work with them to determine the future shape of the second tier of the professional game.
Are these changes part of recent RFU funding cuts?
The RFU is now financially in a stronger position than in recent years. Everything we do going forward needs us to focus on how we will best benefit from our investment and manage our expenditure carefully.