A Funding Conundrum for Scottish Semi-pro Rugby

Whilst we’ve been holding our breath this week waiting for the official announcement that two South African teams are joining the Pro 12/13/14 competition, we’ve had plenty to keep us occupied with stories coming out of Murrayfield (whether from official or unofficial sources).

To kick things off, the President of Stade Nicois, Patrice Prevot, (a club playing the 4th level of French rugby) told the press that he’d signed a deal with the SRU that will see the Union supplying him with a coaching team and nine players in their search for promotion and a longer term plan of becoming fully professional and making their way to Pro D2.

In addition, he also suggested a Scottish company in association with the SRU would take over the Club, though this bit seems to have lost a bit in translation.

Cue a quickly put together press statement from Murrayfield announcing they’re “developing a performance pathway” with the French club “to provide wider opportunities for Scottish players”.

The SRU say the partnership would see five players going to France (Josh Henderson, Bruce Flockhart, David Cherry, +2) whilst Peter Murchie (out of contract former Glasgow player) and Tyrone Holmes (former Glasgow player who got a short term contract at Newcastle last season) would start their coaching careers at Stade.

Interesting development, but it raises several questions, such as:

  1. why a French Club; and why one which plays at a level that’s equivalent to National 1 in Scotland
  2. why, when you have a pathway of Scottish based coaches working their way through UKCC level 3 & 4, do you send coaches with no coaching experience
  3. why invest in French semi-pro, but you can’t afford / won’t invest in Scottish semi-pro rugby.

So plenty of discussion points on this one in the run up to the AGM, but if that wasn’t enough, a story is leaked to the BBC claims that SRU Chief Exec, Mark Dodson, will be presenting the idea of a semi-pro league in Scotland to Member Clubs at the AGM next Saturday. The league being made up of 6 teams, based in specific locations (so possibly not Club related) with £100k invested in each by the SRU.

There’s been plenty of rumours about the Union and Premier Clubs wanting a semi pro league (8 teams with £500k invested is one we’ve seen suggested), but this BBC story has taken many by surprise, a suggestion being the timing is more to do with reducing flak coming off the back of the French story.

There are probably few who would disagree about the merits of a semi-pro league, but again it raises some interesting questions.

In the run up to their SGM last October, the SRU Executive told the Clubs that we’re struggling to afford to fund pro rugby in Scotland, and there was a need to hive off all the pro assets into a seperate company that would allow external funders to come in and donate (sorry invest) money for the greater good of game. Well to date, as far as we’re aware, there has been no announcement to say the company has been set up, and there has been no announcement telling us of the funders who are donating (sorry, investing) their cash to the game. So we wonder, if you’re short of cash to invest in Glasgow and Edinburgh, how are you going to find £600k a year to invest in 6 semi-pro Clubs for five years. One option could be to move the promised pot of £385,000 for the 10 Club Premier league out of the community game and into the semi-pro/performance remit.

Realistically though, how much of a difference will £100k make to teams – 4 players earning £25k a year a team.

English Championship team Jersey Red this week announced significant cutbacks to their budget, with the suggestion that they have overspent £300k to come fifth in the second teir of English rugby. Whilst getting back to the French story, President Patrice Prevot claims the SRU investment in the Club matches that of Allianz.

Allianz have just renewed their sponsorship of the Club and we don’t know what the value of this is, but according to reports, the previous deal was worth €350k in 2014. Could we really see the Union invest €350k in French semi-pro and £600k a year in Scottish semi-pro.

Of course, on social media we’ve got plenty of folk saying what a great idea a semi-pro league is, but no-one is seemingly willing to suggest where the funds will come from, or for that matter how you decide who would the location based franchises.

The Glasgow based franchise is probably pretty clear cut, but what about the rest:
Glasgow – Glasgow Hawks
Edinburgh – Watsonians, Currie, Boroughmuir, Heriots
Borders – Melrose, Hawick,
North & Midlands – Stirling County
Other – Ayr, Marr

and should we only be considering current Premier Clubs as franchise holders. Your National 1 candidates are:
Glasgow – Cartha, GHA
Edinburgh – Mussleburgh, Stewarts Melville, Edinburgh Accies
Borders – Gala, Selkirk, Jed-Forest, Kelso
North & Midlands – Aberdeen Grammar, Dundee HSFB, Falkirk
Other –

Some interesting conversations to be had in identifying who’s best placed to get what.

Semi-pro is fine if it fits into the wider plan of developing the game across the country. So we’re sure Murrayfield will have considered all the options in their extensive consultation about Agenda 3 – well, they had some meetings back in November that Clubs were encouraged to attend under the banner of President Roadshows, though Clubs weren’t told these meetings were kicking off a consultation exercise to radically restructure the Club game. Since November, well, erm, there’s been little else apart from a mention of Agenda 3 in the recently published Club Participation Agreements.

If it was left to the Clubs, then who knows if a semi-pro proposal would be approved, but they may not need to worry as there’s a significant rewrite to the bye-laws being put before the upcoming AGM. If the Clubs approve these changes, then arguments about league formats will be a thing of the past, as the proposal gives the Scottish Rugby Board responsibility for the “determination of the format and structure of Leagues and competitions”.

 

see also:

Rugbyrama

The Scotsman

Learning to play rugby with Stade Nicois: