Cash-strapped Yorkshire Carnegie are to return to part-time status from next season.
The former Premiership club have conceded defeat in their battle to regain top-flight status and will operate on a much smaller budget next season as a semi-professional outfit.
The club’s board informed players and coaching staff of the decision at a meeting on Tuesday morning. It brings to an end more than 20 years of professional rugby for the club, that peaked in the middle of the last decade with a Powergen Cup victory and a sole campaign in the Heineken Cup.
But since their last relegation in 2011, dwindling crowds, a reduction in central funding and an inability to attract significant investment, has left them struggling for revenue streams.
This season, their budget of £2.3m is bettered in the Championship by just London Irish and Ealing Trailfinders. But that will be reduced next season.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” admitted chief executive Gary Hetherington.
It’s a difficult day for everybody that has been affected in different ways.Gary Hetherington
“Next year Yorkshire Carnegie are going to be operating on a budget less than what it is enjoying currently and will be a part-time operation as a result.
“It’s a difficult day for everybody that has been affected in different ways. It’s a difficult time for the club and everyone who has been with us on the journey.
“Over the years, we have shown a remarkable spirit and we’ve had 20 years of full-time rugby.”
Carnegie have been trying desperately to reclaim their Premiership status. They have launched searches for investment on two separate occasions but could never attract enough income to build a promotion-winning team.
They had long harboured hopes of joining the Premiership through a ring-fencing of the top tier, due to their location, their reputation and the strength of their RFU-backed Academy.
But this latest news is a further setback to that possible route.
“This year our total expenditure was £2.75m, of which £2.5m was on the rugby budget,” explained Hetherington. “We initially budgeted to spend £2.3m. Of that budget, £1.6m came from the shareholders. That level is not available next year, so the rugby budget will be reduced. The business is stable, but it has not grown.
“This year was meant to be a season of building momentum towards a push for promotion next year, but that promotion plan will now be put on the back-burner.
“The shareholders remain committed to a plan that will deliver Premiership rugby. In the meantime, it is their intention to maintain a competitive team in the Championship.”
The news comes amid a worrying time for the sport, financially, after it was revealed this week that of the 13 clubs under the Premiership umbrella – Championship leaders London Irish included - only one, Exeter, is making money.