By David Williams
The four Welsh rugby regions fear their £120m Guinness Pro14 windfall from private equity company CVC may now slip through their fingers.
The cash injection – which would have given the Scarlets, the Ospreys, the Dragons and the Cardiff Blues around £10m each – is now under severe threat due to the sporting shutdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The company are set to hold a key meeting this week to re-evaluate the risk of buying a 27% stake in the competition.
The Welsh regions are banking on their £40m share of the proposed deal helping them to balance their books and to help them become more competitive on the field.
Without the investment, and given the economic meltdown currently taking place in all professional sports, there could be serious repercussions.
The same will go for the PRO14 tournament as a whole. They could face crippling claw backs from sponsors and TV partners if they cannot finish the current season, including the play-offs and final, and given the clamour to play international matches ahead of anything else when rugby eventually returns, the shape of next season remains very much up in the air.
The WRU chief executive, Martyn Phillips, admitted last week that the given the crisis the current goal is “to try and come out of the other side with all the people we went into it with.”
But he is the first to admit that will get harder and harder if there is no income between April and December.
“The regions are tough models to run and the unions are being challenged financially across the world,” said Phillips.
“The regions have been able to run on a lean model, so they are good at managing on limited resources. We’ve tried to put in as much money as we can and the focus of the Professional Rugby Board is to make sure we all come out the other side.”
In Wales, 40,000 tickets for Judgement Day had been sold for the annual battle of the four regions at Principality Stadium this month.
At present the home of Welsh rugby is a field hospital ready to accommodate 4,000 patients and is unlikely to be available to host a major event until the end of the summer at the earliest.
That will put further pressure on the now non-existent cash-flow of the regions, while the Welsh Rugby union are sweating, along with all other Unions, on potentially missing out on their four November internationals.
All sorts of plans have been muted to try to fit in the cash-cow fixtures from the summer tours and autumn tests and the nightmare scenario would be that none of them would be able to play out to full crowds – if they are able to be played at all.
Wales are due to head to Japan and New Zealand this summer before receiving Fiji, New Zealand, Argentina and world champions South Africa.
Ticket returns alone for the four matches would be in the region of £16m and the WRU has already banked a further £4m for the postponed 2020 Six Nations game against Scotland.
If they had to take a £20m hit on those five games, as well as potentially returning the Judgement Day cash collected on behalf of the regions, many fear the game could well go bust in Wales.
Adding to the calamitous financial picture, the TV rights to the November matches have not as yet been sold.
“Nobody has ever seen anything like this before, where your revenues disappear overnight and you don’t know when they are going to come back. We are no clearer than we were a month ago,” said Phillips.