Doncaster Knights chief warns of funding gap threat to Premiership hopefuls

One step away: Doncaster failed to reach the Premiership when they lost their play-off final to Bristol last season, Ian Evans being hauled down by Knights Matt Challinor in the second leg at Ashton Gate. (Picture: PA)
One step away: Doncaster failed to reach the Premiership when they lost their play-off final to Bristol last season, Ian Evans being hauled down by Knights Matt Challinor in the second leg at Ashton Gate. (Picture: PA)
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DONCASTER Knights benefactor Steve Lloyd last night urged the RFU to be definitive about how it envisages the Championship’s future and bring clarity as financial concerns remain.

He has already spoken out about fears the second-tier competition could resort to being part-time and, if further funding is not found, as many as 10 of its dozen clubs could subsequently soon be from London.

That came on the back of the recently-announced £225m eight-year deal struck between the governing body and Premier Rugby which, alarmingly, included no mention of any fiscal benefits arriving at the Championship table.

They will receive £530,000 from the RFU in the forthcoming season – just £10,000 more than last term – but Lloyd argues it costs at least £1m per year to run a full-time professional club, leaving a shortfall more often than not made up by benevolent owners like himself and Tony De Mulder at Castle Park.

“The RFU said several years ago that they wanted the Championship to be a second-tier of professional rugby and that is fine,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“But, of course, there is a cost to that. With the bare bones, that can be done at £1m per year.

“Now, we’re getting half of that from the RFU but, if I said in my business that I’m only going to give half of what is needed for the business plan to be put in action, I’d get laughed at.

“If the RFU truly wants the Championship to be a full-time competition – and effectively they are our bosses – it has to change its business plan so they can find the money to fund it as one.”

Premier Rugby Limited (PRL) do also pay the Championship £1m per season but that is unlikely to change anytime soon unless the second-tier clubs agree to getting rid of the play-off system.

Doncaster nearly prospered from that when they reached last season’s final before losing to Bristol, who duly returned to the top flight.

However, Lloyd added: “The Premier Rugby aspect is a sideshow really; why would they put any money in the Championship?

“It makes no sense whatsoever for them to do so. The quicker the RFU recognise we belong to them the better, and they should be able to fund the workings of the Championship if they do want it to be full-time.”

Asked what feedback they have had since concerns were raised last week, Lloyd replied: “The sadness of it all is very, very little.

“It’s said that that is all they (RFU) can afford which is a little risible given their current finances. It feels like we are being fobbed off.

“We’ve now got a year’s moratorium to hopefully negotiate something with the RFU. We need to get to the bottom of it and, if the RFU says there is no money and that is the honest position, then they have to say that publicly and take it on the chin, admit it can’t be full-time.

“I like to be logical. People can set their goals and then create finance to meet them but don’t have grandiose visions of your goal that aren’t then fulfilled; they have to back up what they are saying.

“We need to know each other’s positions – not just us and the RFU but Championship clubs and the PRL, too.

“It’s nonsense that the Championship as a whole and PRL have never sat down together.

“We’ve got to let them know that we don’t want such talks just so that we can moan or be threatening; like them, we ultimately want to improve the English game. I hope that sense prevails.”

With the new campaign getting underway next month –Doncaster open at relegated London Irish on September 3 – Lloyd maintained: “If we don’t get the funding it’s not Armageddon.

“Me and Tony are not going anywhere – Doncaster is in our blood – but one day we will go under the proverbial bus and we have to get the Championship sustainable. Plymouth have dropped out after money problems and there is a lovely phrase starting to appear – ‘sponsor burn-out’.

“Sponsors want to see their hard-earned money achieve something and, at some clubs, they are realising that’s not the case.

“In the Championship. there’s no Midlands representation now that Moseley have been relegated, there’s been nothing from the north-west for some time and we’ve already got five London sides. This is from a supposed national league.

“The danger is if we go part-time professional, clubs outside of London will struggle to get players. Guys can get good jobs there and play part-time but that’s more difficult elsewhere.”