14 October 2022

‘No quick fixes’ for rugby club crisis, insists Premiership chief Massie-Taylor

14 October 2022

Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor admits there are “no quick fixes” as the English professional club game battles its biggest crisis.

But Massie-Taylor insists that “bold decisions” will be made to “lay better foundations for the game”.

And the clear message is that clubs need to agree on a likely vigorous shake-up and align with each other, which has often proved beyond them during 27 years of professionalism.

The Gallagher Premiership, England’s flagship domestic competition, is in meltdown after Wasps and Worcester were suspended amid financial difficulties which threaten their existence.

Wasps say they are likely to enter administration, while Worcester have been suspended from Premiership action for the rest of this season, with relegation to follow, after the club’s partial liquidation.

The freefall of both clubs has reignited the debate over sustainability at the top level, and Premiership Rugby is examining a range of options to strengthen clubs’ financial resilience, which will include giving consideration to the league’s structure and the visibility of clubs’ financial information.

Asked if he had concerns about other Premiership clubs, Massie-Taylor said: “We haven’t been given any direct red flags from clubs, but I will be really honest and say that until I get complete financial oversight of clubs I can’t give you a direct answer on that.”

And former Wasps player and rugby director Nigel Melville, who is chairman of Premiership Rugby’s investor board, added: “I think the time is right for a reset, and I think everybody agrees.

“When it comes down to a vote, ‘What’s in it for me?’ always comes forward. I think there is a general feel that change is necessary to move forward.

“We always have problem clubs. It’s not always the same one. It depends what the issue is.

“We are working really well together at the moment. We have our issues now and again, but everybody is very straight with each other and very honest.”

The Premiership is now operating with 11 clubs after the season began with 13 just over a month ago. Massie-Taylor admits grand plans for an eventual expansion to 14 were “short-sighted”.

“I think our ambition to move to a 14-team league was short-sighted. We need to look at a lesser number,” he said.

“Exactly what that number is, is to be decided. I know there is a lot of speculation going on at the moment.

“But there is an element of not knocking down everything. We have some great elements to Premiership Rugby, and the competitiveness and quality of rugby is one of them. But we need to create a higher standard and a more integrated second tier (Championship).

Most important to me is that we create a more robust structure and governance model

“There are no quick fixes here, but we have a big responsibility to take some.

“I am not going to dwell on the issues that we have, but they all begin with C. One is the calendar, one is the cost base, which is not linked up to our commercial system, and from a governance point of view, we have issues over what we can control and we also have a huge amount of conflict.

“Most important to me is that we create a more robust structure and governance model, and that we have stricter oversight.

“That is important to maintain the integrity of the system we’ve got, to avoid some of these situations we are in at the moment, but we also need to attract future investors into the clubs.

“We have a very loyal (investor) base, some of whom have been around for a long time, but some are fatigued, and that is understandable.

“We need to get a new way of investment into clubs and we need to create an environment where they feel they can invest into.”

Massie-Taylor admits that with the Premiership now being two clubs down from its season starting point will leave a financial dent.

Champions Leicester, for instance, do not have another Premiership home game until late November as their next two league fixtures at Mattioli Woods Welford Road were against Wasps and Worcester.

“It will have limited impact centrally, but clearly clubs who had sold tickets or season tickets are going to have issues,” Massie-Taylor added.

“There is going to be a financial impact this season with clubs not participating.”

The Rugby Players Association says the players must be at the heart of any decisions.

“They are the driving force behind the game. They are the role models and connection to the game’s brilliant and committed supporters. What makes a club are its players, staff and supporters,” the RPA said in a statement.

“Without players being formally recognised partners in defining the future of English rugby, it is difficult to envisage the game moving forward in the way it needs to, be that through central governance, player welfare, contracts and rights, or financial sustainability.”

Wasps captain Joe Launchbury said in the statement: “Players must be at the table in decisions being made about the future of the game.”

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