Onward, a major think tank, has urged the government to encourage supporters to invest in rugby and football clubs to ensure their long-term viability and provide better protection during times of crisis. The suggestion is part of a report called A Sporting Chance, which examines how professional football below the Premier League level, cricket, and the two rugby codes deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Several clubs are already facing severe financial difficulties,” Will Tanner, Onward’s director, said. “If the distance and gathering limitations continue into next season, we will see big numbers of clubs fold, and many cities lose the cultural legacy sports clubs represent.”
“There are social as well as economic reasons for the government to take efforts to secure such institutions for thousands of fans and communities that rely on clubs,” Tanner, deputy head of the policy unit in Theresa May’s Conservative cabinet, stated. We have solid working ties with government officials and have spoken with a few of them about our proposals.
“Because a number of us have worked in government, we’ve focused on proposals that ministers can implement swiftly, such as designating stadiums as community assets that couldn’t be sold off by an owner in the case of a club’s demise.” The financial challenges that sports like rugby face must be addressed.”
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has begun an anti-obesity campaign, which Tanner expects will lead to increased investment in sports. “Government guidance [in England] is to get people moving again through cycling, walking, and other activities so that individuals can build resistance to the virus itself,” he said. “It will be a major policy driver in the coming months, which is why clubs must stay open.”
“Our research revealed that it is difficult for fans to obtain precise information on how their clubs are governed,” says the author. Many rugby teams’ finances are murky, and most rely on benefactors rather than long-term commercial concepts. Fans invest a lot of passion every week and pay ever-increasing gate charges, and they should be held to a higher standard.”
The paper points out that clubs in Germany’s Bundesliga must be majority-owned by members, with average ticket prices significantly lower than in the Premier League, where increases in broadcast and sponsorship revenue have tended to be passed on to players and agents, similar to club rugby in England.
Tanner stated, “This is about transparency, accountability, and governance.” “We advocate for increased fan ownership and participation in the management of clubs, football, and rugby.” We want the government to support this, and it promised a £150 million community ownership fund in its platform.”
Premiership rugby union clubs aim to finish the season, which was halted after 13 rounds and is now down to nine games, two play-off weekends, and the knockout stages of two European cups. The plan is to resume contact training in July, but the players must be convinced that it is safe to do so.
Clubs are eager to resume play since their income has been reduced to a trickle due to a lack of gate receipts and central support during the lockdown, and there is concern that a second wave of the virus will influence next season.
“The government’s strategy so far has been to provide rugby league a loan since there was an existential risk to a sport that had only recently begun its season,” Tanner explained. “Union is unique in that, while few teams are successful, none appear to be financially viable at this time. Rather than subsidizing the entire sport, I believe the government will look to existing programs to help those most vulnerable.
“A second wave of the virus would be a very different story. All businesses would face a greater difficulty, and recovery would be a magnitude more difficult. It would necessitate a very different government response, as significant measures would be required to save a variety of enterprises, including clubs.”
“Clubs must find new ways to manage their operations, and with earnings down, they are unlikely to be willing to pay such large salaries,” he added. Because the crisis is affecting the entire world, competitive pressures that have pushed up payment will be eased, allowing rugby to transition to a more sustainable model.
“Obviously, authorities must move quickly to protect sports clubs, which are the pride of many communities and will be required to bring the country back together once the pandemic is over.”