Irish rugby in dire financial straits

Sun, 21 Jul 2013 14:27
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The Irish Rugby Football Union has confirmed it will have to borrow €25 million to fund the professional game over the next six years.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has confirmed it will have to borrow €25 million to fund the professional game over the next six years.

This follows the union’s announcement of a €26 million loss in projected earnings from the sale of five- and 10-year tickets after less than half the 3700 tickets that recently went on sale for €9,000 and €5,500 were sold.

The 2000 leftover tickets will now be available on a match-by-match basis with IRFU rugby bosses hoping to make up the deficit with the sale of 5000 premium level tickets in 2020.

"We've been to the market and it has said what it has said, we sold just under 50 percent of the tickets," IRFU chief executive Philip Browne told the Irish Times.

"We will all have to tighten our belts but we are going to continue to operate at the levels we are at. We will continue to fund four professional teams and the national team and the domestic game.

"It is business as usual we are just going to have to borrow to fund that cash deficit over the next six years. I think everybody is surprised we didn’t sell as many as we hoped but that’s the nature of the economy at the moment.”

Another loss in income is expected when ongoing negotiations for newly structured European competitions reach a conclusion.

Browne slammed English clubs and accused them of circulating “misinformation” on this matter.

"I think there is a fair degree of misinformation floating around in the media in relation to this. I think there is some pretty errant nonsense in the media, I presume it comes from the English clubs, suggesting ERC aren't entitled to centrally sell the rights for future competitions.

"That's nonsense as it has been done in the past. How else do you secure your future but by selling your rights?

"It is also strange that they take that view when they also have a shareholder on the board and were present when that decision was rightly taken.

"It is also bizarre that Premier Rugby Ltd (English) castigated ERC for selling the rights centrally then went off and sold the rights to all matches involving English teams in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to BT Vision without any reference to the Irish union, Scottish union, Welsh union or, I think, to the English union."

Honorary treasurer Tom Grace was frank about the situation when he addressed union members including new president Pat Fitzgerald during the IRFU’s annual general meeting at the Aviva Stadium on Friday.

“It was hoped we would be debt-free by now; however, the down turn means we will have to borrow,” said Grace.

“Overall, if there’s a message coming through here it’s that the national team is the key provider for all activities undertaken by the union.

“Without the dividend this generates there would be no IRFU funding for provincial teams and consequently the branches would be relying on what they themselves can generate.

“There is absolutely no doubt that times are hard but we are extremely fortunate that we have managed our cash conservatively over the last number of years. The disappointing result with the sale of 10-year tickets reflects what is happening in the economy.

“I think, as a unit, we need to concentrate to develop again. If we don’t spend on the development of the game we can throw our hat at it.”