Munster will miss financial targets as CEO Fitzgerald looks to future

The Cork man is hopeful of retaining his position into next season.

MUNSTER CEO GARRETT Fitzgerald expects to continue in his role into next season, despite a large section of the province’s supporters calling for the Cork man’s position to be reviewed.

Garrett Fitzgerald Fitzgerald is hopeful of remaining on as Munster CEO. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Fitzgerald has been with Munster since 1999, presiding over the province’s two Heineken Cup successes, but his role has come under scrutiny this season amidst Munster’s struggles to remain competitive on the pitch.

With Munster sitting seventh in the Guinness Pro12 ahead of Friday night’s crucial clash with Edinburgh in Musgrave Park, the prospect of the province missing out on the Champions Cup next season is very real.

“I’m sure people will have different opinions on it,” said Fitzgerald of the calls for him to consider his position. “They haven’t been afraid to express their opinions previously. I see it as a challenge.

“I’ve been here since 1999 and I think it would be the first year in how many years that we didn’t qualify. I would see it as our immediate aim would be to get back up there [into the Champions Cup] the following year, and I think we would be capable of doing that.”

As an employee of the IRFU, Fitzgerald is subject to performance reviews with the union and stated in January that he has satisfied the majority of his key targets for those meetings.

“When you have your end-of-season or half-season review done you have certain KPIs, six or eight KPIs for the year,” said Fitzgerald yesterday when asked if he is on track to reach his targets this season.

“Certainly our financial targets will be down this year, on gate income. Some of our areas like sponsorship are up. Many of the areas we’re doing around our commercial work are up.

“A lot of the stuff we’re doing around the numbers of games played at under-age levels, they’re all up. But I’m sure when we come to the actual bottom line, financially, from the gate income that came in from our own pool games, that will be down.”

Garrett Fitzgerald Fitzgerald has been with Munster since 1999. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Head coach Anthony Foley and his all-homegrown backroom staff have taken the majority of the flak for Munster’s decline, but Fitzgerald admitted that himself and the Professional Game Board – the key decision makers in Munster Rugby – must accept a share of the responsibility for where the province now finds itself.

“Everyone’s got to accept responsibility for those things, especially if I’m head of the organisation you have to take responsibility for it,” said Fitzgerald. “The natural thing to do is to put it on the coach and that’s what happens, isn’t it?

“That’s what happens in all sports to whoever is coaching or managing the team. But you have to take responsibility, this isn’t a matter for identifying one person for blame, I’d never look at it that way.”

Gate figures have been down across Europe this season, though the size of Thomond Park often attracts more attention to the fact that there are empty seats in the Limerick venue.

In addressing the declining attendances, Fitzgerald hopes that the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby for the next three years can ensure that new and returning Munster fans are enticed in by a winning team.

“There’s two challenges to that area – you’ve got to be winning, and some teams have even found that when they’re winning all the time they can’t get people to go. Look at last weekend the [Champions Cup semi-final] game between Wasps and Saracens. There were only 15,000 between the two of them and they’ve had super seasons.

“But you must try and get results on the field, it’s not part of his job to fix attendances. It’s been proven all the time that the best marketing tool in professional sport is winning on the field.

Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo Munster are preparing for a big clash with Edinburgh on Friday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You can cancel all the rest of your budgets; if you manage to win people want to be there.”

Fitzgerald confirmed that the process of selling the naming rights to Thomond Park remains “ongoing,” although did not provide any update on whether or not a deal is close.

The appointment of Erasmus is certainly an impressive one from Munster, with the South African bringing a CV that boasts achievements as a head coach and important experience in a high-powered and influential role as general manager of the SARU’s High Performance unit.

Fitzgerald praised the influence of IRFU performance director David Nucifora for his role in the Erasmus appointment, while stating that the process was also driven by “an international recruitment agency who had been responsible for a number of big international appointments.”

Erasmus’ extensive network in South Africa would appear to make it a good bet that Munster will attempt to lure at least one NIQ player from the African nation ahead of next season.

Tighthead appears to be the major priority for the province, and Fitzgerald said himself and the PGB will discuss player recruitment from abroad with the new director of rugby.

“The position is exactly the same has it has been; you’re allowed four non-Irish eligible players and one project player. We have some vacancies in that area that we haven’t filled. That’s something that we’ll look at and sit down with himself [Erasmus] and look at the people just to see what’s the best thing to do.”

Head coach Anthony Foley has essentially found himself demoted with the confirmation that Erasmus will join and take control of team selection and tactics at Munster next season.

Asked if this appointment undermined Foley’s position, Fitzgerald stressed that the former number eight still has much to offer Munster.

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Anthony Foley Foley will stay on as head coach next season. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“That’s a question you can give a lot of answers to really,” said Fitzgerald. “We did this in consultation with Axel. I am sure it’s a challenge for himself. He has got a great rugby brain.

“He has got a rugby coaching ability that has been complimented by everyone that has worked with him. There were some challenges that came across the desk, especially when results are going against you. You become the focus of a lot more attention.

“As in accepting for Andy Farrell to come in, and he worked very closely with him. But it was good to get someone in with more experience in that area itself.”

Whatever about Foley’s role under Erasmus next season, the head coach has a vital few weeks ahead as he attempts to ensure that Munster will be playing in the Champions Cup next season.

Fitzgerald couldn’t put an exact figure on how much it would cost Munster to miss out, but underlined that it would be expensive.

“It’s a difficult one to measure,” said Fitzgerald. “If you asked me four or five years ago I’d say it could mean up to €1 million possibly, but that’s basing it on what you’d lose out on gates. You don’t get any money just to qualify, you’re not guaranteed any income.

“The way you get your income is through gate income. But it’s quite interesting to see what’s happening with gate income everywhere when we even look at what happened at the two [Champions Cup] semi-finals this weekend.

“Someone told me that the two together were less than what were at the Leinster-Munster game in the Aviva, and that’s the way gates generally have gone.

“But it could cost you gate money in excess of €500,000; you have to be looking at that, and that’s just being practical and just taking it from experience.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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