Tony Rowe fears Premiership clubs may go out of business by Christmas without crowds

Daniel Schofield
·3-min read
Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby looks on during the Exeter Chiefs inter-squad match in preparation for the commencement of the Gallagher Premiership season, at Sandy Park on August 07, 2020 in Exeter, England. Exeter Chiefs were leading the Gallagher Premiership, when all matches were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  - GETTY IMAGES
Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby looks on during the Exeter Chiefs inter-squad match in preparation for the commencement of the Gallagher Premiership season, at Sandy Park on August 07, 2020 in Exeter, England. Exeter Chiefs were leading the Gallagher Premiership, when all matches were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. - GETTY IMAGES

Exeter Chiefs chairman Tony Rowe fears Premiership clubs may go out of business by Christmas if crowds remain locked out of stadiums.

Rowe revealed that Exeter, the only club that consistently turns a profit in the Premiership, are losing £1million a month as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It is not just the lack of crowds at Sandy Park that is hurting the Chiefs with their banqueting and conferencing also closed, but the overheads for those facilities remain in place. With Exeter, the model of prudent spending, feeling the pinch, Rowe warned that other clubs will be teetering on the brink unless stadiums can open again. 

“I don’t think the rugby fraternity realise how much clubs are losing and it’s currently costing us just over a £1million a month to keep operating,”  Rowe said. “We still have to maintain all the infrastructure, as well as the playing side, so it’s been incredibly difficult.

“Sandy Park, as a business, has already had to cancel over £1million in corporate business from banquets, conferences and dinners and right now I can’t see when they will come back, so it’s eating into our reserves pretty quickly.

“Everybody has held up Exeter as the ideal business and a profitable club because we have Sandy Park Conference and Banqueting that pays the day-to-day bills and then we have all these bums on seats for match-days. However, for the last five months that’s been a millstone around our necks. At the moment, we can’t earn any revenue, yet our outgoings remain the same. 

“What was to a degree our ‘golden goose’ in having Sandy Park pay the bills and the overheads, whilst the match-days were the big earners, both of those income streams have currently gone.”

English clubs face further threats to their income streams with the RFU poised to slash its central funding agreement with Premiership clubs while their broadcast agreement with BT Sport comes to an end next season.

While both of those developments are concerning, Rowe revealed that the absence of crowds is the most immediate threat to their survival. “Central funding is made up of TV, league sponsors and RFU money, which covers some of it,” he explained. “However, the bigger money comes from bums on seats and if we can’t get spectators into the stadium, we’re all going to be in trouble.

“Most of the clubs will have worked out how long they can survive, but if we can’t get some decent revenue coming in by the New Year, we’ve got serious problems. Here at Exeter, because we have been commercially sound for the last 20-odd years, we’re fortunate we’ve been able to lean back on some of our assets to help raise the funds we need to keep going, but I do fear for some of the other clubs.

“I can look at things here and say ‘don’t do this or don’t do that’, but with what’s happening I can’t do anything to fix things. We are in a situation that is not of our own making and we can’t get out of it until the Government says we can – or we get some kind of vaccine.

“Our pre-sales for season tickets next season are also good, over 80 per cent, but that all hinges on us getting people in for the start of the season on November 20. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be paying more money back and there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.”