'We can see how fragile rugby is... there's going to be a big readjustment'

Ex-Grenoble and Dragons boss Bernard Jackman isn’t surprised to see rugby struggling financially.

EX-IRELAND AND Leinster hooker Bernard Jackman believes that professional rugby is set for “a big readjustment” as the sport deals with a financial crisis sparked by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The suspension of professional rugby around the world has left unions and clubs reeling as they face up to losing out on precious matchday revenue. As a result, most have announced drastic financial measures, including salary cuts and deferrals.

USA Rugby has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, while Rugby Australia appears to be in dire straits. New Zealand Rugby is the latest to take measures to safeguard its future, confirming 40% pay cuts for all staff for the next three months.

Premiership clubs have cut player and staff salaries by 25% but that is not expected to completely alleviate many teams’ financial problems. In Ireland, all IRFU employees have taken pay deferrals of 10 to 50%.

bernard-jackman Jackman is supporting the Feed the Heroes fund. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“This is a global issue and it’s affecting every country,” said Jackman today as he promoted the Feed the Heroes campaign, which is raising funds to provide Ireland’s frontline workers with nutritious meals as they front the response to the Covid-19 crisis. 

“We can see how brittle our game is, how fragile our game is, how a lot of clubs are living hand to mouth, how there’s no buffer for any sort of crisis, whether it’s long-term or short-term.

“I think there’s going to be a big readjustment in the game. I think playing and coaching salaries are going to drop, maybe back to where they were five or six years ago. Potentially squads are going to get smaller, with more reliance on academy players, definitely less pro players.”

With the end of a World Cup season generally meaning clubs releasing a number of players anyway, Jackman can now see a situation where as many as 10 players depart certain teams. He worries about where they will find employment.

“In the English Championship, we already saw the cutbacks happening there without any pandemic,” said the former Grenoble and Dragons head coach.

“That market is going to be dead in the water because those clubs are going to be under pressure because of the loss of revenue from sponsorship.

“In the French market, Pro D2 clubs are under big pressure and Féderalé 1 clubs have reduced budgets.

“As professionals, a lot of players’ dreams and careers are going to end coming out of this crisis, which is very sad.”

england-v-australia-2019-rugby-world-cup-quarter-final-oita-stadium Australian rugby is in dire straits financially. Source: David Davies

Jackman hasn’t been surprised at how quickly rugby has found itself in deep financial trouble. He says that one of the reasons he left his role in Grenoble in 2017 was an understanding of just how fragile club rugby can be without support from the national union.

“That was just a case of a sponsor and business going into receivership, or how a change of strategy from one sponsor could affect the whole financial set-up in a club.

“In France, there was a lot of financial pressures all the time, even in a non-pandemic situation. Sometimes those things get out the press, a lot of the time they don’t, it’s just kept in-house.”

And it’s Jackman’s belief that revenues in rugby simply haven’t been matching up to the ever-increasing salaries being paid to the best players and coaches.

“Unless you had a benefactor who was willing to put his hand in his pocket every year and clear the overdraft, there were very few clubs able to wash their faces in terms of revenue over expenditure,” said Jackman.

“There have been some huge salaries going around and those million-pound players, maybe they’re the ones who will stay, maybe you’ll still have million-pound players but the £300,000 player becomes a £150,000.

“But there’s definitely going to be a readjustment around contracts.

“I think anyone who has a contract for the next two or three years is very lucky and I feel sorry for anyone who has been let go by their club this season because it’s going to be an absolute minefield.”

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peter-omahony-jonathan-sexton-and-andrew-porter-dejected-after-the-game All IRFU employees have taken pay deferrals. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jackman does point out that the IRFU is in “a very good place financially” compared to other unions, while he believes that the All Blacks’ “commercial earning power” should ensure New Zealand Rugby comes through this challenge too.

His main concerns lie elsewhere, although Jackman does stress that the amateur clubs in Ireland “are going to be in a very difficult place” and may need further support beyond the €500,000 that the IRFU has already made available to them.

The reality is that rugby is like any other business at present, with the Covid-19 outbreak resulting in huge financial challenges across many industries, as Jackman points out.

Focusing on the more pressing challenge for everyone in Ireland and around the world, Jackman said he was delighted to be supporting the Feed the Heroes campaign, which has already raised more than €570,000.

“I suppose I just feel a bit useless at the moment not being able to do anything,” said Jackman. “I know we’re all doing great work staying at home but when you’re fit and healthy, you kinda feel you should be doing a bit more.

“I reached out to a few doctor friends of mine. John Ryan, the Leinster doctor, I keep texting him saying, ‘Is there anything I can do for you, can I drop off a takeaway?’ and he keeps refusing.

“Napoleon said ‘an army marches on its stomach’ and I just think for people who are working on the frontline, working double shifts, to get maybe a warm meal or even take it home for when they get back the next night, it’s so important.

“It’s a small token of our appreciation as a society.”

Bernard Jackman is encouraging the public to continue donating to the Feed the Heroes fund. To date, more than 21,000 meals have been delivered nationwide.

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Murray Kinsella

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