The Rugby Football Union is seeking financial aid from the Government after forecasting losses totalling £106m (€115m) as a result of fans being absent from matches at Twickenham for up to six months.
Chief executive Bill Sweeney has revealed the perilous outlook that will see a £122m reduction in revenue for the forthcoming Autumn Nations Cup and £138m for the Six Nations. The impact of these are losses of £46m and £60m respectively, forcing the world’s richest union to request a bailout.
Concern over a second wave of coronavirus infections has resulted in the abandonment of plans for supporters to attend sports venues in England from October 1 as part of new restrictions announced by UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson added that the additional measures would remain in place for “perhaps six months”.
Sweeney was present to outline the gravity of the situation at Twickenham and in a bleak statement, warned of the possible consequences if assistance is not provided. “From the outset we have been clear that an autumn without crowds would leave us with little choice but to approach government for financial help. Unfortunately, we are now in that position,” Sweeney said.
“Without support we are in danger of clubs at the heart of communities across England, as well as players and volunteers, disappearing forever.”
Gloucester chief Lance Bradley warns that the English professional game will be forced into making radical changes if fans are shut out of matches for an additional six months. “I don’t want to sound over-dramatic but it can’t be for six months if we want to have professional rugby survive in the format that we know,” Bradley said.
“I don’t want to say this club or that club would definitely go out of business, but it would prove to be a hugely challenging time if there were no fans for six months. We can’t just shut everything down for six months. If we’re not allowed to have fans for an extended period, then some kind of financial support to overcome that would certainly help.”
“But what we would far rather do is work with the government to make sure we actually get fans in. The objective isn’t just to contain the virus, it’s also to have something to come back to afterwards and if we don’t let fans into Premiership grounds, football grounds, cinemas and theatres, they are not going to survive.”
Bradley’s view was echoed by Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, who believes the bleak outlook caused by continuing to play behind close doors will extend into the Test arena.
“It doesn’t take a genius to guess that if England don’t get crowds during the autumn and the Premiership don’t start having crowds before Christmas, it’s going to be a really worrying time,” McCall said. “That will be for the international scene and also the club level. It’s obviously very serious.”
Bristol director of rugby and former Connacht boss Pat Lam said: “It will have a huge impact on the whole industry if fans aren’t coming in. It will certainly be tough for us, but it’s the same for everybody,” the Bears boss said.
“We’re a business and having fans attend games is a core part of our business. Not having them there is a huge loss for clubs and has a big impact on the financial side of it.”