Guy Easterby is confident that Leinster will be able to weather the worst of the financial storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including the loss of two hugely lucrative home games at the Aviva Stadium this month.
The Guinness PRO14 champions were due to host Saracens in the quarter-final of the Heineken Champions Cup at the Ballsbridge venue at the start of April while Munster were due to visit the same venue in a league game this coming Saturday.
The two fixtures would have been worth in the region of €1.6m to Leinster alone with another €600,000 going to the Aviva in the form of stadium hire and close to €400,000 going directly to the IRFU for their share of the gate from the European quarter-final.
It’s a huge sum of money for the province to lose out on should one or both of those fixtures be eventually scrubbed: both competitions are on a period of indefinite postponement as the battle against the pandemic continues here and around the world.
The Saracens game was not part of Leinster’s projected financial model, a home European quarter-final never is, but the Munster game on Lansdowne Road is an annual event and included in calculations and it would have been played last October were this not a World Cup season.
Leinster haven’t given up hope they can still proceed with either or both but the chances against grow each day with updates from various sources suggesting that any return to normality for society will be gradual and that mass gatherings may be particularly risky.
“Suffice to say, it’s not a very positive thing that we can’t play those games,” said Easterby. “As a business we’ve had some success over a period of time that allows us to have a sound financial footing. That allows us to ride out a period of time to hopefully come through the other side of this.”
How long this period of inactivity proves to be is still no clearer. IRFU CEO Philip Browne has already said the union can ride this out if there is a resumption by September but that they will have a problem if that point arrives and there is still no green light in sight.
Some scientists have suggested that there is little to no prospect of organised sport returning this time of Christmas and, while Leinster have had some internal discussions about such a scenario, they are opting to concentrate on hypotheticals which offer more succour.
Easterby stressed time and again in a conference call yesterday that they remain open to all suggestions and will do whatever is deemed necessary for the betterment of the game and their competitions as long as it is within accepted government guidelines. That includes the possibility of playing behind closed doors, proceeding directly to a PRO14 final against Edinburgh given both are leaders of their conferences, and the idea that cross-border complications could lead to some expanded form of interpro series.
“That sort of scenario is a possibility of playing out, due to the travel issues we have as a competition. I would say there would be ongoing discussions around what that might look at when we get closer to a time when we actually get back playing.”
As things stand, Leinster are targeting a return to collective training in mid-May but Easterby is the first to say such best-laid plans can be overtaken overnight. The restrictions are due to last up to May 5 but Health Minister Simon Harris has already put the nation on notice by saying there will be no instant return to what was normal.
There are numerous stakeholders engaged in discussions as to when games and competitions will return but Easterby is among those who understands that the test arena is where the big money is made and that it will, therefore, have first priority. Finishing the Six Nations is paramount given it is the cash cow for the northern game but figuring out slots for what were due to be summer tours to the southern hemisphere, autumn tours to Europe and the Rugby Championship makes for a daunting body of work.
“The international game has to be dealt with and what that looks like,” said Easterby. “We have to be very supportive of that in terms of how they complete the Six Nations, what a summer tour looks like, the November series, all that. We understand how important those high value games are to us regaining some financial stability. And one thing I’ll say from the Leinster end, we’re fully supportive of that and we’ll do whatever asked in terms of rowing in and making sure we can get our fantastic game up and running.”