Yorkshire clubs fear long-term effects of rugby union's shutdown

Try time: North Premier action between Harrogate RUFC and Yorkshire rivals Ilkley. Picture: Richard BownTry time: North Premier action between Harrogate RUFC and Yorkshire rivals Ilkley. Picture: Richard Bown
Try time: North Premier action between Harrogate RUFC and Yorkshire rivals Ilkley. Picture: Richard Bown | other
There will be no more rugby union played in Yorkshire this season following the recent announcement that 2019/20 was over for all leagues beneath Premiership level.

With the nation locked down due to the coronavirus outbreak, there is huge uncertainty regarding when sport in any form will be able to resume on these shores.

The financial implications for a game that is already in a bad way in this country will doubtless be significant and wide-reaching.

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Having reported a £24.4m loss in 2017/18, the Rugby Football Union actually made a £14.9m operating profit during 2018/19, though now anticipates that the Covid-19 pandemic will cost it up to £50m in revenue over the next 18 months.

Eleven of the 12 Premiership clubs ended the last financial year in the red, while funding to teams in the Championship – England’s second tier – will be slashed drastically over the next couple of seasons.

The pinch is however likely to be felt to an even greater extent lower down the pyramid where clubs from National One and below rely heavily on gate receipts, matchday takings and sponsorship – plus the opportunity to hire out their facilities – for the majority of their income.

With this in mind, the RFU are providing a £7m relief fund to aid struggling community clubs, though at this stage, the general consensus among teams around the region is that it is still too early to say how much, if any, difference this cash will actually make.

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The majority (£5m) of the fund will be comprised of loans and it remains to be seen who will actually be entitled to what.

“I think you’d need more detail,” said Robert Fort, chairman of National Two North outfit Wharfedale.

“I’m not actually sure at this stage how much of the funding will be accessible to a club like us, but one hopes that it can be a positive thing for those in need.”

Jamie Broadley, head coach at Sheffield Tigers – another of Yorkshire’s National Two teams – echoed Fort’s sentiments.

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“Our finance guys have been looking into all of the details regarding the relief fund and it’s really complicated,” he said.

“We just don’t know where we stand with it and I think we definitely need some clarity as soon as possible. Obviously, the RFU are facing difficulties themselves with Twickenham being shut, but an awful lot of people have been left frustrated by the way that they have handled funding decisions in recent years.

“A lot of clubs feel unloved after cuts to things like travel expenses at our level and the decision to reduce funding to the Championship, so this is a great opportunity for them to make a statement and really put something back in to the community game.

“At Sheffield Tigers we don’t have a big benefactor, we are reliant on a number of small sponsors, which is a worry for us because they will be facing their own financial challenges.

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“I imagine that the current situation will effect us more than most, but by hook or by crook, we’ll find a way to survive.”

North Premier side Harrogate RUFC are another White Rose club bracing themselves for a huge financial hit and looking at ways to adapt to ensure that they can stay afloat.

“We’ll probably lose a quarter of our income, so it’s going to be a challenge to survive, but we’ve just got to adapt,” revealed commercial director Dave Doherty.

“We might be talking £70,000 because we’re missing out on a number of home 1st XV fixtures when we’re pushing for promotion, our junior rugby festival and end-of-season functions.

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"All of this will impact heavily on next season, but hopefully with government stimulus and help through rates relief and so on, we will be able to get through.

"The good thing for us in terms of players is that nobody is at Harrogate RUFC for the money anyway, though for clubs who are paying semi-professionals or professionals big wages, I imagine that it is going to be very, very difficult."

Over at Wharfedale, the short-term is of less concern than what happens in the future.

“We’ll lose a few things in the coming months and take a hit this year, but we can still keep operating,” added Fort.

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"It’s not a matter of survival for us, we have enough reserves to see us through and are robust enough to withstand this shutdown.

“My real concern is next season. Will there still be the same appetite for sponsorship? Can we rely on the same level of commercial support?

“For me, that is the bigger issue.”

Like Wharfedale, National One outfit Hull Ionians are confident that their immediate future is secure, however club secretary Chris Taylor does not believe that the financial ramifications of the coronavirus shutdown are all that clubs should be thinking about.

Like Wharfedale, National One outfit Hull Ionians are confident that their immediate future is secure, however club secretary Chris Taylor does not believe that the financial ramifications of the coronavirus shutdown are all that clubs should be thinking about.

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“Everybody is pointing to the financial aspect straight away, but there’s no real meat on the bones as far as the figures are concerned regarding the relief fund,” Chris Taylor

“Obviously, we will be effected financially, just like clubs up and down the country, but people forget that rugby clubs like us play a big part in the community.

“We have a massive positive effect on the lives of our players, members and supporters, helping them forget the normal stresses and strains of life on a Saturday afternoon.

“But, although our facility is currently closed, the club isn’t, it’s still there in terms of membership. We are here for all of our players, supporters and members of the community.

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“We’re putting ourselves out there to be contacted, so if people are struggling they can get hold of us. And, if we can’t help, we may know someone among our 600 members who can.”

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