|Steve Phillips, Julie Paterson, Mark Killingley||WRU|
|Neil Bathgate, Barrie Jones, Gareth Storey||Crys 16|
|Dan Hallett, Ryan Price||Dragons Official Supporters Club|
|Grant Berni, Keith Collins, Sarah Davies||Ospreys Supporters Club|
|David Elsmere||Cardiff Blues Supporters Club|
|Huw Jones||CF10 Supporters Trust|
MK introduced JP and SP, representing the WRU and stated that Martyn Phillips has started hand over to SP yesterday (14/9).
NB offered thanks to WRU representatives for giving up time to meet with the JSG. Supporters trusts/ clubs introduced themselves to WRU and their links with the relevant clubs.
Loans to the regions and pay cuts – What is the current situation and the approach to repayments?
SP – we are getting a loan from NatWest. This is via the CL Bills programme, which is a government scheme to support businesses during the COVID crisis. Credit approval expected tomorrow (16/9), with everything finalised by the end of September. Details of the loan will be announced to the media on Thursday (17.9.20).
NB – Is this replacing WRU money to the regions? Will WRU contribute to the repayments?
SP – Out and out loan to the regions. This links to what regions would expect to receive as part of the PRA. Repayment sits at a regional level but WRU taking it on as they have a balance sheet able to manage the loan amount, the regions may not have this.
NB – If WRU income picks up, will there be a contribution from WRU?
SP – If we were to get crowds in autumn, full crowds in 6n or concerts in 2021, then we would contribute towards the loan. For example, if we received 5 million by year end 2021, in addition to the current income that we have modelled, this would reduce burden on regions. However, this is only until the end of 2021.
MK – PRA is based on a risk/ reward basis for pro game income – More concerts more rewards, COVID pandemic, no income therefore PRB wear the pain of the losses, which is very unfortunate in the first year of the agreement.
HJ – 3 independent teams carrying huge risk in this situation, what will happen for the union owned region?
SP – This was a combined PRB decision of how to solve the crisis.
HJ – Role of the WRU is not only to safeguard the company but to act as the Governing Body to safeguard various sectors of the sport. Could the regions be further protected?
SP – Our assets, as in the stadium, give us the ability to take out the loan and this is what NatWest need to secure the loan. If we don’t secure the company, there will be no sport.
NB –What are the lessons learned in case of a similar crisis in the future? Regions have tried to reduce costs where possible but not much more can be done.
SP – We need to replenish Welsh rugby reserves in case of another crisis. We have gone into those reserves this time, which has helped reduce the impact.
HJ – How do you envisage regions being able to repay the loan – Could be in excess of £1m per annum for 5 years, which is a huge ask.
SP – CL bills has a 3 year life (government rule), we needed to make sure repayments were over 5 years to be more manageable. We had a plan to grow our income pre-COVID and still hope that will be the case when we come out the other side, which will reduce the burden on repayments for the regions.
NB – At the Scarlets and Ospreys all staff have taken 25% cut, Blues pay cut still pending, Dragons have said playing staff only. Why is this? Bearing in mind the relationship between the WRU and Dragons.
MK – Some non-playing staff have sadly lost their jobs at the Dragons.
JP – All playing staff have taken 25% at all 4 regions. Other non-playing staff have taken cuts, but this is variable depending on role roughly between 10% and 25%.
MK – Off field the staffing model for back office staff across regions is inconsistent. PRB did some phenomenal work to bring it all together and agree cuts but fundamentally they are all different businesses.
HJ – Any additional conditions from WRU imposed on regions?
SP – CL bills agreement is standard and will be passed on to regions. Not currently inclined to add any additional conditions other than what has been agreed at PRB.
HJ – Rumour of shared services requirement to be added to the conditions?
SP – On the table but not agreed at this time. For example, things like marketing, ticket sales.
JP – if its non-performance related, can it be streamlined is the question to the regions.
What is the anticipated impact of additional autumn fixtures on international squad size, knock on effect to regional squads?
JP – The additional fixtures are hugely important to recoup lost income. NZ tour cancelled, as has been the Celtic Cup, JRWC 2020 and likely 2021 will be cancelled. 7s cancelled until at least April 2021. Autumn campaign squad size will remain at 38, possibly with a couple of additional players for training only purposes. Not taking additional players out but not guaranteeing release of players within 38. Last option before 2021 6N to test combinations, cap players and try out youngsters. No formal rotation policy but take each game on its merits. Important players get game time after so long without rugby.
GB – France friendly before nations cup, will this mean players released early for this fixture and has the Autumn window increased in length, allowing the extra fixtures?
JP – All players in 38 and identified “watch players” will have an individualised player plans, that are player specific to ensure they get appropriate game time. Reg 9 window – this has increased by World Rugby for 1 year only. Even English clubs on board with release of players during that extended window. Important to mitigate losses and drive revenue, as well as getting game back into public spotlight.
What is the hope for the return of crowds to international and domestic rugby?
GB – Not sure if we will get crowds in the autumn but what is liability of using other grounds outside of wales if they cannot have crowds? Any consideration for using regional grounds?
JP – We would look to place in agreement that we can recall games back to Wales. Working with Pro 14 and working around planned league game days. Lots of spinning plates but lots of options explored to ensure we can maximise income and limit any liabilities.
SP – For example Scotland game is planned to be in London, however, we have the option of pulling it and moving game if no crowds allowed. Realistically, it is unlikely we will have a crowd for Scotland, so we may well pull game before an agreed deadline to reduce risk. Time and cost to brand stadiums will also impact on the decision that for example RFU wouldn’t have at Twickenham, if there was no crowd allowed.
JP – On rugby side we want to make an early call, so players know where they are playing, whilst giving ourselves the best chance of getting a crowd in if we are allowed.
MK – We have explored more than 2 options on most grounds, explored lots of options around ground availability, ticket systems, groundsman issues, branding. Will likely stagger announcements to maximise opportunity to get income in through ticket sales.
SP – If we don’t take games to London with crowds we lose opportunity to recoup losses and reduce burden of the loan, so want to hold off on decision as long as possible.
HJ – How can fans be expected to take out season tickets when most of their high profile players will be with team Wales for most of the season?
MK – Regions have approached season tickets in different ways but we have cooperated to support them and advised as best we can to shape the product they are offering.
JP – Regions have been fully aware of nations cup plan and involved in how this will work and understand the need for it. Barely any conflict, lots of joined up thinking around new season approach and regional coaches understand bigger picture.
MK – We feel we have worked brilliantly with the regions on this.
What are the long-term plans for the international and global calendar?
JP – World Rugby discussions are ongoing. My opinion is that windows will stay the same but an autumn competition will be formed.
SP – Countries working well together, 6N and SANZAR aligned in the debate. Not sure best time of when to bring it in around RWC. Still some issues between FFR and LNR.
NB – As fans, we would like to see competitions more aligned so they flow better in blocks.
JP – Not just pro and international but development competitions needed as well. We won’t just restart all competitions as they were, we would like to dovetail competitions to ensure development players aren’t all lost to regions at same time.
SP – What would supporters preference for the window be, summer or autumn?
NB – As long as it’s one and not both I don’t think they’d mind which.
DE – Need to keep new and existing fans engaged through a block of rugby.
JP – A lot of work being done to block league and cup competitions. Light at end of the tunnel from 2022 onwards.
MK – Would you prefer self-contained competitions?
NB – Teams lose momentum with 4 week breaks, for supporters we prefer week in, week out domestic rugby in the same competition rather than Pro14, Europe, internationals and back to Europe etc.
JP – Players would prefer blocked competitions to ramp up to major games. Opportunity to have development competition for regions when internationals happening to give supporters week in, week out rugby, whilst not diminishing other competitions.
How has the situation of CVC Investment in the Pro 14 developed in recent months?
RP – Has the situation of the investment changed since COVID? What is the flow of revenue from CVC to the regions?
SP – When we did the deal there was protection for payments, however the risk profile changed slightly due to COVID. Therefore, some future payments are now contingent. We believe CVC have the ability to deliver, however there are some commercial challenges which has set back the timeline for seeing CVC impact. Still optimistic and discussions with 6N ongoing about investment there.
RP – Commercial inventory for the professional game or is there some money that’s planned for the recreational game?
SP – Allowance for one off payment to recreational game but investment weighted to pro game. Income streams will benefit the pro game hugely and be contingent on progress of the product.
JP – Regions were keen to give a contribution to the community game and this was agreed with PRB.
With the addition of Amazon Video to cover the Autumn Nations Cup, are streaming services likely to be a part of future TV deals?
RP – Amazon TV deal is welcome in current climate. Is this the direction of travel for streaming services to be a part of future deals?
SP – Amazon deal for the Autumn was done through the 6N, not via CVC. Great to have new entrant to the market other than Sky and BT. We have ensured S4C have Welsh Language rights as part of the contract. Always likely to get criticism for paywall coverage but pleased that FTA is retained through S4C.
GB – Are we likely to see a joined-up approach to future broadcast deals, or is it likely to be fragmented?
SP – Always likely to be fragmented – For example Pro 14 rights are sold by Pro 14. SP and JP sit on Pro 14 board and try to influence direction of travel. Sold by competition Pro 14, Europe, 6N and Autumn Cup sold as separate bundles. Work between unions to maximise value of UK rights.
JP – When we get to better place of competitions dovetailing, rather than overlapping this will influence what coverage looks like. Whilst there is an overlap, there will be a challenge of fragmented coverage for different competitions.
MK – If we could wave a magic wand, we would like one pay partner and one FTA partner. Currently the competition structure is too complicated and too many people involved to negotiate better TV deals in the opinion of the broadcasters.
JP – We also have the added complication of 2 of our regions dictated by football league fixtures.
What is the timeline for the appointment of a new Chair and CEO? How has this affected SP’s role as CFO?
SP – Chair appointed post AGM in the board meeting planned for late October. Just doing CEO duties and handover has started from Martyn Phillips, CFO promoted internally whilst I am interim CEO. I will be Interim until told otherwise by the board, likely to be into 2021.
NB – What was the rationale for going through the process of looking for a permanent CEO knowing the chair is likely to change and want to have an input?
SP – Can’t answer that one, would need to ask the board.
What is the short, medium and long term plan for Pro 14 and regional rugby? What are the contingencies in place considering potential travel issues?
JP – SA teams cannot travel in 2020. Their involvement would be 2021 onwards subject to SA government agreement on travel. That is mapped, as are scenarios for teams not joining, or if they join in February for instance. First 11 rounds are set and as we creep towards later rounds, we will understand if January/ February looks doable from SA teams/ SA government point of view. I chair rugby committee for Pro 14, regions fully aware of scenarios and contingency planning.
DE – What about the medium/ long term plan for Pro 14 and the regions?
JP – Make the best of it and maximise potential. CVC coming in have a headline plan for the future of the competition and meetings to look at detail start next week. Understanding the need for European competition and other good quality competitions. We need to make sure we are involved in those discussions around competitions and have the ability to compete in the latter stages of these competitions. 2022 will be a watershed year for rugby as broadcasting deals, future calendars and competition plans come together. I represent the views of regions on the Pro 14, have done for 8 years as a neutral, taking forward views of regional shareholders.
DE – What is the plan for the Dragons in terms of private investment?
JP – Would like to take them back into private ownership, we were nearly there pre-COVID but put on hold. Once a way forward post COVID is clear, the Dragons will put momentum back into the process for agreeing private investment.
HJ – Med/ Long term – do you think there will be a B & I league?
JP – My opinion, if it happens, it will be in the medium term. Needs to be explored in next couple of seasons and it has more legs now than ever before. Good links with PRL, so opportunity is there with CVC influence. English clubs brought a lot of money to the table pre-COVID but their landscape has changed so the door is more open that it was.
MK – English clubs want a quality competition, as we all do. The crisis creates opportunity and if I was CVC representative then I would be pushing hard for that.
What is the plan for de-commissioning and handing back the Dragon’s heart hospital and how have you worked with Welsh Government around the return of rugby?
JP – De-commissioning has started, will be handed back week before Christmas into a fully operational stadium. CAP should be ready sooner but part of de-commissioning process. Two groups have been set up with WG to discuss professional and recreational game return. We have been lobbying for return of games with working groups. Provided mitigations around testing, COVID operation procedures and mitigation of other risk factors. We have exemptions for travel in and out of Wales to fulfil fixtures. Weekly call with WG to discuss progress.
JP – Community game is more complex, governed by social distancing guidelines. If social distancing rule is changed to 0 metres, we can get game back on. Other option is an exemption to change laws of the game or how the game will operate, which we are putting together a proposal at the moment. We are the first governing body round the table to discuss this with WG. We are joined up with pro teams and all in it together to see safe return.
HJ – Any compensation for use of the stadium from NHS or Welsh Government?
MK – Covering WRU costs, not paying to loan the stadium. For example, the cost of maintenance and cleaning staff and covering utility bills we would not otherwise have used but we have not made money. Welsh Rugby have done the right thing in supporting Health Boards in the crisis.
HJ – Did you explore option of WG grant prior to going to NatWest?
JP – Yes, but non-starter.
JP – We get more traction to support community game, For example, after Storm Dennis. Push back when we talk to them about support for the professional game.
BJ – Who in WG do you deal with?
JP – Weekly sports group set up, when it came to grants/ loans then that was to Mark Drakeford directly.
Do you think PRB structures will be here to stay with a new chair coming in next month and the PRA will remain as it is?
JP – My opinion is we need a professional game board, separate to the community game, so hopefully nothing to change with new chair as those structures are only just establishing and have had big challenges in the last 12 months. As a governance structure it makes sense to have a separate community and professional game board.
JP – We are all in it together as a professional game, we don’t always agree but it’s far from broken. We are not all at each other’s throats but sometimes that suits journalists’ narratives.
MK – PRB positioning within the media is important going forward. We want to be honest about the conversations that are happening and not point scoring in the background. If we don’t have answers, what’s the harm in saying we don’t know. Amanda Blanc trying to do this positively, but situations have conspired against us in recent months.
HJ – A more open approach is very much needed and would be welcomed. Finally, if there is to be a continued separation of the pro game and the community game, then there needs to be an overarching strategy for rugby in Wales that everyone can buy into.
NB – thanked MK, SP and JP for their time and an informative call. Aim to have another call in around 6 months.