Top-flight clubs face new RFL financial guidelines

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SUPER League outfits may be made to take up a new club governance facility in order to avoid any more problems like Bradford Bulls’ financial meltdown.

The Rugby Football League have already made it compulsory that Championship clubs adhere to the practice in 2013 and top-flight sides are now being urged to follow suit.

Ex-FA financial regulation employee Matthew Segal has been working with the governing body for the last two years developing the internet tool which is designed to help clubs understand and evaluate their own organisations with the aim of improving club governance in the sport.

It has already drawn praise from Super League champions Leeds Rhinos who trialled it last season while fellow Yorkshire outfit Hull FC and Warrington Wolves are others who have taken it on board.

In June, Bradford became the third top-flight club inside just 18 months to go into administration following on from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and the Crusaders.

With huge doubt also currently surrounding the future of Salford City Reds, the RFL are fully aware of how their members can easily fall into precarious positions.

Blake Solly, the RFL’s director of licensing and standards, believes Segal’s club governance blueprint is crucial in steering clubs away from such unnecessary pitfalls.

“A lot of people see governance just as a tick-boxing exercise,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“But clubs with the best balance-sheets have got the best governance and that’s no coincidence.

“Arguably, clubs that entered administration in the last decade are great case studies in poor governance.

“We believe there’s a link and the more we can do to help clubs here the better the sport will be as a whole.

“It’s mandatory for Championship clubs this year and it will be part of any future Super League licensing criteria.

“We’re trying to roll it out as much as we can and the response has been really encouraging; we have to make sure it spreads.”

The tool itself is a piece of software which acts as a guidance with, in the Super League version, 21 statements for clubs to look at how their own operation compares.

They complete it and the RFL assess it, in effect offering free governance consultancy work.

Segal explained: “It’s a first in the sports aspect. There’s so much focus on governing bodies’ own governance when really the clubs themselves could actually do with that support more.

“A good club should have non-executive directors – people who aren’t just there because they are sponsors but because they contribute a proper skill and actually provide independent advice.

“At too many, it’s the owner and his mate and the advice is not what he needs to hear but what he wants to hear. It’s getting club boards to evaluate their own performance, then take a step back and see how their performance comes out.”

With five Super League titles in the last six seasons alone, Leeds are renowned as being one of the world’s most successful sides.

However, they are also equally admired for the manner in which their entire business is operated which means their belief in Segal’s work holds some sway.

Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “We found it a much better system than the whole labour-intensive process we went through for licensing.

“This is all done online and it certainly works, providing the ability to be better at club level.

“There’s no point doing all the hours of process if you don’t get the benefit and the quality of governance at club level is absolutely essential.”

So much so that Hetherington believes the tool could become invaluable in ensuring no other club suffers the same turbulent fate as the Bulls, who lurched dangerously towards liquidation before finally being taken over in September.

“It would be difficult to pinpoint the Bradford issue but, collectively, if there was as much focus given to this (governance) five years ago, I’d expect all clubs to be in a better position,” he said.

“The RFL should be congratulated as this is one of the challenges for all professional sports.

“Rugby league has not fared too well in this area and union probably even less, so too soccer and probably cricket. I think professional sport has a real problem and challenge; the realisation now is that pro’ sport is a business.

“Directors and senior management have got a responsibility as it’s the quality of the governance in the end that will ultimately decide how successful the team may be on the pitch.

“You need a well-balanced board of directors with skills across the board and a delegation of responsibilities to carry out duties effectively.

“When you look at a lot currently, they are not run effectively but on the whims and passion of an owner.

“There’s a whole lot of clubs who have got into difficulties because of that but soccer faces the biggest challenge as there’s so much more money in that sport.”

Segal, who benefited from a partnership between Leeds Metropolitan University and the RFL, is hopeful all Super League clubs will utilise his work and highlights Trinity as one who are already benefiting.

“Wakefield didn’t have great governance,” he admitted.

“They went into administration the week after I joined here (February 2011) so I’ve looked at that quite closely since.

“But they were taken over by Andrew Glover and have now recruited a non-executive director to strengthen their governance.

“There’s been so much focus on Bradford it’s forgotten clubs like Leeds, Warrington and now Wakefield, are trying to change it around. The focus has to be that what happened at Bradford doesn’t happen at other clubs.”