It’s been a busy summer in Llanelli with Brad Mooar succeeding Wayne Pivac as head coach of the Scarlets.
With talks continuing over CVC’s investment in the Guinness PRO14, the potential establishment of a British & Irish League, and a new campaign on the horizon, there is plenty happening in west Wales.
Scarlets chairman Nigel Short gives STEFFAN THOMAS the lowdown on the key talking points.
CVC may be getting involved with the PRO14. How much of a financial boost would that be for the Welsh regions?
Any investment into the PRO14 is a tremendous vote of confidence and will potentially provide a significant uplift for all the PRO14 clubs, but the really important point is the investment that’s already been made in Premiership Rugby – plus the multiple investors we hear are interested in PRO14, Six Nations and World Rugby – all adds up to an incredibly exciting and positive period for the game. The critical thing is to absolutely ensure any additional revenue is invested wisely for the long term.
Can Welsh rugby ever close the gap with the English and French clubs?
That depends on both sides of the equation – revenues and costs. The English and French clubs generate more local revenue from bigger conurbations with much bigger populations and business density, but the significant revenue in professional sport is from broadcast which can level the field. With a continued improvement in broadcast revenues and a robust cost cap mechanism to ensure jeopardy and protect the integrity and value of our competitions, there is no reason why not.
A British & Irish league could be in the pipeline. Do you see this happening and is this the right way forward?
The idea of a British & Irish league structure has been in the pipeline as long as I can remember! Of course it could make sense structurally, but at a practical level it would need to generate enough additional value to appeal to all parties involved including club, union and private equity stakeholders so it’s not so simple in the short term. Personally, I’m a real enthusiast for PRO14 from a rugby point of view. Remember it’s the only club competition with 50 per cent of the Tier One rugby nations participating which provides fascinating differences in playing styles. For me it’s vital we continue to build and improve PRO14 as a strong competition in its own right – one that is already strong enough to attract serious external investment.
It’s fair to say the Scarlets were in a difficult financial position 10 years ago. What’s the current situation?
It’s pretty difficult to disagree with that statement as the facts speak for themselves. The current situation is very different. Since 2010 we’ve increased the net worth of the business from a negative £5.54m to a positive £2.57m – an improvement of over £8m in the business value. We’ve steadily moved from a heavy loss in 2010 to a small profit for the year just ended – all of which will be re-invested on the field. We cannot underestimate the support of our original shareholders, the board, and the constant effort of everyone in the business to get here. We certainly cannot relax, but the club is now secure for the future.
How have you managed to turn a poor financial position into such a strong one?
By working relentlessly to build the club into a sustainable business that is not dependent on any individual. We have more than doubled our local commercial and retail revenues and driven cost efficiency across the business.
Our absolute focus on player development has ensured we deliver ever more international players to the Wales national squad. A dramatically improved working relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union has resulted in substantially increased investment in the professional game in Wales and the PRO14 executive has done a great job of doubling their revenues and our distribution over the last four years. We’ve built a very strong board, an experienced executive team, and at every step of the way the board has ensured we live within our means while investing all we can in the academy, development, coaching and the playing squad.
So, what is the strength of the board? Who are the board members?
I joined the board in 2010 with a background in running a market-leading multinational and since then we have added a top international commercial lawyer, one of the most senior management consultants in the UK, the chairman of the multinational that owns leading sports broadcast producers Sunset & Vine, the chairman of a global purchasing consultancy, the owner of a Wales-based financial services company, and the chair of a very substantial west Wales business that does more to support local rugby than any individual I know.
We made the decision five years ago to appoint a representative of our Supporters Trust Crys 16 to the board along with a representative of our county council to make sure the view of the biggest emotional stakeholders in the business help us make the right decisions. We will always work in the Scarlets way, but we benchmark best practice which in UK Rugby is clearly Exeter. They are a real example of sound business management in professional sport. We are reviewing our governance to devolve responsibility in key areas to key board members allowing me to concentrate more on the senior rugby side. It’s critical to understand our board members are there to run a sustainable business and although they will always help in difficult times, Scarlets should not be a benefactor model.
That’s why everyone on our board takes their responsibility to the wider community and grass-roots game in west Wales very seriously and why the Scarlets Foundation has now been registered to provide a vehicle that is dedicated to further developing our support for the community game.
Do you see the Scarlets’ financial position strengthening even more over the coming seasons?
We focus relentlessly on running the club as a sustainable business. It’s essential to continually re-examine everything we do, improve our financial performance, and invest wisely. We have just invested £500,000 in a new state-of-the-art hybrid pitch and a further £150,000 in our indoor training surface.
How much of a positive step forward is Welsh rugby’s Professional Rugby Board?
It’s important to recognise the establishment of PRB is a major structural change which I believe will have a very positive impact in the medium to long term. The new agreement with the WRU finally puts all parties in the professional game in Wales around one table. It’s a very positive step forward.
Last season there was a huge delay in players signing contracts because of ‘Project Reset’. Is there a danger of that happening again this season?
The new agreement was a very complex legal structure to finalise and put in place so that caused the delay. Confirmation of funding and recruitment for this season was pretty much completed before the end of last season and the timing of recruitment for the 2020/21 season is clear so with PRB working effectively, there should be no reason for that to happen again.
Are there plans to further strengthen the squad?
We continually work on a succession chart for all positions to make sure we have the right level of strength in depth across the park, particularly in international windows. We are 99 per cent complete for this season, but we will be making some further recruitment and have retained the budget to do that.
As always our priority is to develop local talent which is why we continually seek to develop our development pathways.
Can you see the Scarlets challenging for silverware in Europe?
Absolutely. Our Champions Cup quarter-final against La Rochelle in 2017 was an incredible occasion for our supporters, sponsors, coaching group and squad. We are hungry for more. We were disappointed with our semi-final performance in Dublin, but we recognise every club that has enjoyed consistent European performance has had tough lessons along the way. We intend to learn from those lessons.
What are the targets for the next five years?
Off the field we need to continue to achieve our business plans which will ensure the strength of the club beyond five years.
On the field we have targets to grow our player and coach development and reach the knock-out stages of both PRO14 and Europe consistently.
How excited are you by the new coaching group?
First, I need to recognise the contribution of Wayne Pivac, Stephen Jones and Byron Hayward in firmly putting Scarlets back on the map, winning the PRO14, and reaching a European semi-final. It’s a tough act to follow! But yes, I’m excited and energised by the change as are the players and everyone in the business.
We’ve evolved our coaching strength and playing style considerably since 2010 and we believe Brad Mooar and the group he has put together are a great fit for our philosophy and will deliver the fast moving, running rugby every Scarlet craves to see.
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