Derek Beaumont has reiterated his stance that the season cannot be cancelled in a letter sent to Championship and League 1 clubs.
In a letter obtained by TotalRL, the Leigh owner says clubs could still be financially better off than they would have been if the season had been played as expected, with the costs saved from furloughing able to outweigh the losses of playing behind closed doors.
Beaumont also tabled a proposal for returning to play, which would see multiple games played at one venue.
The full letter is below:
It is my contention that cancelling the season CANNOT be an option for the Championship and Championship 1. We have a duty to the sport to do everything in our powers to ensure the game continues as it has throughout history including completing its seasons during two world wars. More so of all years when celebrating our 125th Anniversary. This is an opportune time when many sports are not functioning to gain great exposure to not only rugby league but to Championship Rugby League. I will set out here why I believe cancelling the season cannot be an option and then my proposals of how the season can be played out utilising the amended fixture format proposed by the RFL starting June 7th. The latest government document states that from 1st June sporting events can take place behind closed doors for broadcast.
ISSUES WITH CANCELLING THE SEASON
There are no guarantees that the job retention scheme will continue past 1st July. Even if it does continue there is no guarantee it will continue until the end of the contract period 30th November. There is also the possibility that the percentage could change from 80% to a lower percentage. Therefore, the Job retention scheme does not currently provide comfort against financial risk of cancelling the season.
Even if the above was not true and the government announced that the scheme would remain at 80% until 30th November, I do not believe this protects all clubs. Further we would have to also consider the perception of receiving a £16million loan from government to secure the sport that we then park up and claim furlough for the duration.
Season ticket holders would be entitled to partial refunds on their season tickets. Whilst some may express goodwill many may choose not to given the players have been furloughed. Sponsors may also request refunds especially where their own businesses have been badly affected by Covid 19. Indeed, given that the season was cancelled, and players wages furloughed the RFL would likely be in their right to request a return of the central distribution for the months of furlough to assist with repayments of Sky money or indeed the championship sponsor Bet Fred whom also need to be considered here.
There is also the consideration of the welfare and mental state of the players who want to play and could have significant issues if they are unable to play rugby league. We are already experiencing this with players in my club that we are trying to manage on the basis that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If they were to be told the season is cancelled, I believe there could be more significant issues.
In conclusion I believe there is significant financial risk to clubs by cancelling the season and a poor perception of the sport when it is given an option of how to complete the season not only to the players and sponsors but the public as a whole.
ISSUES WITH PLAYING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The obvious issue here is lack of revenue from gate receipts for all clubs and for some club’s loss of secondary spend at those games. There is also the issue of matchday programme sales, hospitality and corporate match day sponsorships and half time draws etc. it is also important to take into account the fact that not all staff need to be returned from furlough for behind closed door games and the cost of staging games stewarding etc is significantly reduced. I believe the vast majority if not all potential losses can be mitigated as set out in my proposed solution.
I personally don’t believe the losses per club to be too great considering everything and I set out my clubs affairs transparently as one of the larger average attendances to demonstrate this and would suggest the RFL put clubs to strict proof to demonstrate the significant losses I have heard being suggested from playing games behind closed doors.
Firstly, let us look at some facts. We have had our season ticket money from fans. We have had our sponsorship money from sponsors. We have been receiving and continue to receive our central funding. In addition to this we have received furlough income from the government from Mid-March to the date of any start to the season. In the case of Leigh Centurions for March, April and May combined we will have received £137219.57. if we returned to training on 1st June with a view to starting the season we wouldn’t make a claim in June for playing or coaching staff but could continue to claim for other staff not needed to play behind closed doors. But for simplicity let’s not even include that here.
Therefore, from our budgeted costs we have saved circa £140k on the season that without the interruption we would have spent. We average per home game around 3000 spectators in a modern stadium that therefore comes with significant costs. The average net income after stadium costs for a match is £11,500. On top of that we would generate around £2000 profit from matchday sponsorship and half time draws. We have 10 home games left to play meaning by playing behind closed doors we will lose £135,000 leaving us £2,000 better off from the Covid 19 interruption. This is also based on the season being fully completed behind closed doors where it is possible at some point down the line, we will be able to have crowds of some description. Without sounding rude we can probably all social distance our average crowds within our stadiums or certainly most of them.
I set out below last year’s average crowds and in the case of London their current championship average as well as their Super League average from last year. I am not aware of the season ticket sales per club to know what income from the gates has already been received but even if you work on the basis of no season ticket sales and use the multiplier of a nett value ticket it should be the case that the furlough scheme has mitigated a large proportion of the projected losses that will likely be incurred playing behind closed doors. Indeed, even if it did not there is then the comfort of the £16 Million pound loan available to the sport via the RFL to prop this up, but I believe we can do this without needing to utilise that.
Average League Attendances
Based on 2019 statistics
Bradford Bulls 4409
Widnes Vikings 3943
Leigh Centurions 3055
Toulouse Olympique 2290
Featherstone Rovers 2282
York City Knights 2065
London Broncos 2014
Batley Bulldogs 1302
Dewsbury Rams 1176
Swinton Lions 1078
Sheffield Eagles 928
*London’s current average for 2020 is 885
It could be argued that the sponsors and season ticket holders could still request a refund if the games were played behind closed doors and therefore not accessible to them. However, I believe there is far more chance of goodwill from your most loyal supporters if the games are being played and players are being paid. We can also address this in another way in my proposal for a solution.
Until games can have crowds either be it by social distancing proposals or normal activity it would be prudent to adapt the following approach.
One stadium in Lancashire and one in Yorkshire that has the facilities to stage three matches in one day. The Lancashire clubs that were to be the home team would play in the Lancashire selected stadium and the Yorkshire clubs in the Yorkshire stadium. This mitigates costs and ensures safety measures regarding Covid can be contained and implemented more easily than using multiple stadiums. It also makes streaming the games more achievable.
We have a perfect platform with the Our League App which I believe will be what under pins championship rugby in the future and this is a fantastic opportunity to put that to the test. On Saturday, the first three or four matches are played then the remainder on the Sunday at the alternative ground. All season ticket holders at clubs get free access to the streamed games. You could even give them free access to every game as an incentive for their season ticket purchase not just their clubs games something I think would be a good idea. You then charge per view on a subscription basis either for the three or four game day package or just one game. The RFL have the ability to charge for games as they did for the England international, so the detail is already in place. We can then either take a central cost out of each view for the RFL to cover its costs then direct the rest of the funds to the club to whom the subscriber has registered as supporting or I am not opposed to it being held by the centre and distributed equally across the clubs if it provides more comfort. Clubs can still operate half time draws as Batley did with their retro game, I even bought tickets myself. We can also sell main match sponsorships etc for the competing clubs to generate income. We could also sell advertising for half time and pop ups during stoppages etc which again each club could keep themselves and the RFL could also have opportunities within this format. We could make it interesting with a professional commentator then club official or non-player from each club summarising. I genuinely believe we could not only cover any shortfalls but make profit from streaming in this way. Obviously this would pose an issue for Championship 1 clubs as we could only stream the two venues but this could be addressed with a midweek game tie of the round as an option and the income generated from the championship streaming spread to assist championship 1. Its not about having the most subscribers so taking the most money its about getting all clubs through the season stable having completed it.
This I believe is the correct way in which as owners of clubs we should tackle this situation. Our players want to play our fans want content and our main title sponsor can generate business with games being played which will then generate income for them from betting to warrant them not also reclaiming their sponsorship which would also impact on club finances. To me there is minimum financial risk as set out supported by the average attendances and if that proved to be the case and nobody subscribed then we have the comfort of the loan from the RFL as a cushion.
I believe we have a duty to do everything in our power to get the season under way rather than sit back and attempt to profit from the situation. I feel very strongly about this not because I think Leigh will be walking into super league because that is far from a given for any club and we all know how competitive this division is and the aspirations of other clubs in it. I appreciate that everyone has differing circumstances and it isn’t a one cap fits all so some of us will need to take more pain than others if it doesn’t work out with the streaming but I cannot see how that would not work. Surely the people who would normally go to the ground will pay to subscribe to watch and fans will watch other games they would not have gone to the ground to watch. We may even generate new spectators to the sport and showcase what a great product we have in the championship. Let’s be remembered for being innovative and risk-taking all be it minimal and calculated as well as underpinned with the buffer of the loan rather than sitting back and taking the easy option. We can still make our 125th year count we just need to work together to achieve it. Its time to remove our self-interest and come together for the good of the game. I therefore ask you to join in to make this work so the RFL can start to do what is necessary to implement it. Between us all we have the capabilities to sell this to the season ticket holders and sponsors and indeed the wider public. Who knows we could see the grand final in a bustling stadium with beer flowing and a great atmosphere? As custodians of the clubs we need to at least give that dream a lifeline.
Yours in sport
NOTE: I appreciate there is a difficulty in Toulouse hosting games with French legislation. However, it should also be noted that there is a reciprocal agreement between countries that quarantine is not required upon entry. It could therefore be possible that Toulouse were to play their away games first until their country made allowances for games in France similarly to how Toronto operated in a season. If that did not change Toulouse would have to look to complete the season with all fixtures as away games. Without sounding rude we cannot let an issue with one overseas club (should that be the case) affect the remaining clubs fulfilling a season.