By Yorkie
January 29 2019

Now perhaps I should start by stating my opposition to ring-fencing the Premiership for all the usual reasons.

Exeter, no desire to see meaningless matches from mid-season, will devalue the league, etc, etc. However, I can see, and do appreciate, the reasons why those who have invested so much into their hobbies might want to protect their cash. But they did throw their money into the mix knowing the current situation re relegation so not sure that I have too much sympathy but if we want further investment in the sport we love then maybe ring-fencing is the price which has to be paid? Really hope not though!! 

It has regularly been said that many of the Championship clubs neither want nor can afford promotion to the Premiership and history is littered with more clubs who have tried to keep up with the big boys and failed by going bust than the Exeters of this world who have successfully stepped up and survived, rather well in Exeter’s case which shows it can be done. But the recent quotes from Championship clubs’ great and good seem to contradict this. For example, Cornish Pirates Chairman, Dicky Evans has stated that promotion should be mandatory for every league and has threatened to go to court if ring-fencing of the Prem comes to pass. 

Is the sudden windfall of £200 million from CVC an opportunity to take a more long term and inclusive view by coming up with a workable solution for a wider group of clubs or is this cash going to disappear into the “owner” clubs of PRL to further inflate player wages? (Not that players don’t deserve all the money they get but we are in danger of following the Football Premiership business model where they have the best league in the world filled with very well paid foreign players and a poor international football team due to a very reduced player pool playing at the top level.) The CVC money could be held by PRL and then used interest free for clubs to develop much needed facilities and stadia. This means the cash windfall doesn’t just disappear and can be used to develop the long term future and security of the game. And it will also anchor clubs in their respective historical locations and stop them being geographical pawns in rich men’s game like Wasps. 

Unfortunately, the RFU have shown little or no interest in supporting or developing their Championship league so unless someone else does then this league will continue to stagnate and remain effectively semi-pro. No proper sponsorship or tv money starves the league of real progress as the Prem races forward and ever further away. A jump too big to achieve and to even compete with the yoyo Prem club which, if you do and actually win promotion, is likely to end in disaster. So the idea of the next Exeter becomes a more impossible dream and a relegated club, if they can hold their squad and backers together, will just go straight back up most of the time. 

So, this alternative (which is not a new suggestion). Have two fully professional leagues, each of 10 teams, in which all the 20 teams get, via PRL, equal shares in all TV money, central sponsorship money and even the RFU cash. 2 teams each season to be promoted and relegated between these two new divisions. If CVC are all about generating more money for rugby then the current Prem clubs don’t even have to suffer a loss of central income! 

Now the practicalities of this, even after you get the current Prem clubs to agree, are not that difficult to overcome. 

* Have a 2 season lead in period. 

* During the first season, identify and confirm who the additional 8 clubs will be which will then give them a full season to prepare and sign a squad in readiness. 

* During the first 6 months of this first season, the new 8 would need to submit a business plan and funding guarantees to confirm their sustainability. 

* Current facilities don’t matter. But by the end of the first lead in season, all clubs (including those already in the Prem) must have a complete plan as to how their facilities will be brought up to standard by the end of the 2nd season of the new structure. (3 years should be long enough to achieve this.) Any central loans for facility development to be matched by the clubs themselves. 

* For me, get rid of the 2nd overseas big tent player. This is a rich man vanity thing imvho. 

I’m sure that I’ve missed out a fundamental item but can’t see why most things can’t be completed within the 2 year lead in and the 2 years thereafter. 

So who are the additional 8 teams likely to be? Got to be decided on merit (league position) and a willingness to commit. 

London Irish of course.

Ealing. Desire and structure in place.

Jersey. Strong club and surrounded by money.

Cornish Pirates. Desire and stadium on the way.

Yorkshire Carnegie. Been there before but having a bad season.

Bedford? Having a good season but will they want to be involved?

Nottingham? Have had their fingers burnt in the past and no onger have their own ground because of this. Currently skint!

Coventry? Too soon?

or Doncaster? Or London Scottish? 

Once the new structure has been created, it will pretty much financially close the door on promotion from below so, to give people investment confidence, maybe say that there will be no promotion or relegation involved at the bottom of the new structure? But only on the strict understanding that this is on a defined (3 years?) time period which cannot be changed or extended. 

A hidden bonus is that the players will have 4 less league games to play each season so this ticks the player welfare box which is often championed but never delivered upon. 

The one thing I’ve not quite bottomed is the European competitions but I’m sure the Challenge cup could accommodate extra teams/groups? Or isn’t there a 3rd tier competition that could do with a boost? 

Now I’ve always liked the sound of the French rugby financial model whereby at the end of any season, a club’s debts have to be paid off by their backers/sponsors so that a club starts every season debt free (or something like that). Now maybe we could introduce something similar as part of this restructure? Only mortgage type debts allowed at the start of every season? This will mean that shares have to be bought in clubs rather than loans made to them. The former can/have to be sold on whereas the latter can be demanded back at anytime. 

I am sure that there are many holes in the above and it will never work but are we at a watershed for the game and should the CVC cash be used to change things? Biggest hurdle of course will be to get the vested interests we know as the current Prem clubs to agree to anything but them receiving the CVC windfall!!