The financial reputation of Rugby League was in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2012 and the start of 2013 sees the RFL making the news once again. The downfall and resurrections of Super League teams Bradford Bulls and Salford were well documented by the media in 2012, although both have begun the season with a winning start.

 However, the financial issues haven’t been resolved overnight, with a recent BBC Inside Out investigation revealing that Super League clubs are facing combined debts in excess of £60m. Sports finance expert Rob Wilson from Sheffield Hallam University believes that describing the situation as ‘Rugby League staring at the financial abyss’ is not entirely unwarranted.

The chief executive of Leeds Rhinos, six times Super League champions, insists that the problem lies with financial management at club level: "The product on the field has never been better, the crowds are very strong, the TV audiences are very strong, the game itself is as good as it's ever been," Gary Hetherington told the BBC.

"We don't want that overshadowed by incompetence at club level - and that's what we've seen in recent years.

"We need to rid ourselves of poor management practices. All clubs have a real responsibility, a real role to play. The majority of clubs are working hard. It's some of the others that have let the sport down, quite frankly."

The RFL director of standards and licensing Blake Solly agreed that the on-field product is not the problem:

"Attendances were at an all-time high in 2012, more people saw the game on television than ever before and the RFL was able to make record levels of financial disbursements to clubs."

The BBC report came days before the RFL appointed Brian Barwick as the new non-executive chairman. The ex-FA chairman intends to use his far reaching and influential contacts to further promote Rugby League and assist clubs in turning around the financial deficit.  

With the Rugby League World Cup being held in England and Wales later on this year, many feel that this could be the key to stabilising the sport’s financial future through an increase in commercial income, while simultaneously attracting stable sponsors and partners. Whether or not it will be enough to financially support the RFL in the long term is yet to be seen. 

 

By Emily Shotton

The Premiership’s salary cap, which was first introduced in 1999, was created to provide an equal and competitive playing field. Currently set at £4.26m per club, rumours have been circulating within the top English league that some clubs are breaking this limit.

Head coaches from London Irish and Harlequins, Brian Smith and Conor O’Shea, have implied that certain clubs within the Premiership have breached the ceiling, with Northampton Saints’ chairman Leon Barwell joining the row earlier on this year.

"I think we are fairly clear in our minds that there are at least two teams in the Premiership that cheat on the wage cap and I'm not talking about a bit of tinkering around the edges, I'm talking about big time," he said.

Phil Winstanley, Premiership Rugby’s rugby director commented on the issue: "Are we aware of the rumours? Of course we are. I'm not naive. It's not falling on deaf ears. But we have a robust system with extensive powers.”

This season has seen clubs allowed to make a ‘marquee signing’, whose salary is not included in the wage cap, however the main concern remains as to how two Premiership clubs are affording squads consisting of between 50 and 54 players while other squads are made up of around 35, regardless of ‘marquee’ signings.

In March, Saints’ chairman emphasised that the club was up to its limits within the entire ‘playing’ department, including players and support staff, with its latest accounts showing an expenditure of £7.2m. This was before the Saints signed Welsh international George North at the beginning of April, in a deal rumoured to be worth over £200,000.

The signing has been controversial for a number of reasons after it publicised the ongoing row between the WRU and the Welsh regions, and it will no doubt provide a further talking point in the discussions regarding players’ wages and the salary cap.   

 

By Emily Shotton

Leicester Tigers' season ticket sales for 2013/14 have already topped the 12,000 mark, even before this season's campaign has finished.

The Tigers are still to play Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday 25th May but already the club's fans are pledging their continued support for the upcoming season.

A season ticket provides the most convenient and best value-for-money way to follow the Tigers, guaranteeing entry to 17 games for the price of just 12 when compared with matchday rates.

With 2013/14 tickets already in high demand, availability in most areas is limited so fans are being urged to book their places fast to avoid disappointment..

Tigers season tickets include entry to all 11 Aviva Premiership regular league matches, three Heineken Cup and two LV= Cup pool games, plus the pre-season fixture against Ulster Rugby on August 31.

Season ticket holders also have priority when it comes to booking tickets for any knockout fixtures, away games and any international fixtures at Welford Road.

Current season tickets holders have until May 17 to renew their same seats.

All other supporters who book season tickets before May 17 will have priority on any seats released by current season ticket holders.

 

 

 

Global nutrition company Herbalife has taken its first steps into the world of professional rugby, having been confirmed as the new official nutrition partner to the Ospreys.

The agreement will see the company, which sells weight management, nutrition and personal care products, appear on the collar of the Ospreys jersey, which is the second biggest selling in UK and Ireland.

As part of the deal, Herbalife will also supply its H24 sports range of products to the Ospreys team and provide support and advice to the Ospreys coaching staff from its team of nutritionists.

Gavin Aley, country director for the UK and Ireland for Herbalife, said: "We are delighted to be announcing this partnership and working with the Ospreys. They are a very community-oriented organisation, which very much matches our ethos at Herbalife. We hope this deal will bring us ever closer to the local communities in the region and in turn become the blueprint for future partnerships.”

The Ospreys School Programme, which was launched at the Liberty Stadium last year, is on target to meet its aim of reaching 3,000 primary school pupils per academic year.

Aley continued: "We are always looking for in-depth relationships - it's our philosophy in everything we do. Rugby is a mass market, with mass appeal but for us it was a case of finding a partner which shared our values and where we could also work closely with the fitness and nutritional staff to bring our expertise to the table."

Yarnie Guthrie, Ospreys commercial manager, commented: "We are delighted to be working with such a high profile global brand as Herbalife and it was very satisfying to hear the way in which they value the increased investment we have made into community activities in recent years.

"Our partnership illustrates the strength of the Ospreys brand and how it is increasingly recognised and valued globally. As one of the world's leading suppliers of nutrition products our conditioning team are excited about using the H24 specialist sports range and working closely with Herbalife's team of experts to enhance the levels of support given to our players throughout the season helping them to perform at the highest level possible.

"This deal covers a number of bases for both companies and I am sure we will both benefit immensely from the expertise and reach we both bring to the table. As a business we look forward to enjoying a close and mutually beneficial relationship with our new partner."

The battle between the UK's two sports broadcasting heavyweights has seen an interesting development, with BT Sport announcing that they are to offer free Premier League coverage to its broadband customers.

The announcement will be one welcomed by BT internet customers far more than it will by BskyB, who can only view it as a further sign of BT's intent to launch a competitive challenge in the pay-tv market.

BT currently has 6.3 million broadband customers, and this is a clear indication that they will be looking to convert this considerable figure into pay-tv customers, of which they currently have just 750,000. This is dwarfed by Sky's 10 million pay-tv subscribers.

After the announcement by BT, BSkyB's shares were down by more than 6% at the close of play in London.

BT will provide all of its 38 Premier League games free to broadband customers, including 18 "first pick" matches, on three channels: BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN.

BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones believes that while this may be a gamble, it is a strategy that will be looking for profits in the long-term rather than an instant return on their considerable investment, and ultimately that it is a gamble that may very well pay off.

"This is all about reinforcing BT's broadband business and making its customers less likely to head elsewhere.
More and more consumers are choosing to get their phone, TV and broadband services in one package - with Sky an obvious choice for many.

The satellite broadcaster has been Britain's fastest growing broadband supplier in recent years, winning many of its new customers from BT.

But for consumers there's the prospect of more choice and lower prices - which looks like good news."

Broadband packages on BT will cost from £10 a month

But customers who want to access the sports channels will also need to pay for a set top box, or pay an extra £5 per month for the basic television package.

That compares with Sky's offer of 116 Premier League matches, as part of a six-channel sports package that costs £42.50 per month for the first six months, and includes broadband internet.

BT Sport's channels will also show 69 live Aviva Premiership rugby matches per season, plus live football from leagues in Germany, France, Italy and Brazil.

Chief executive Ian Livingston said: "UK sports fans have had a rough deal for too long. Many have been priced out of the market, but we will change this by giving away BT Sport for free with our broadband.

"Sports fans are the winners today."

BT Sport is also taking on BSkyB in pubs and clubs, with an offer of 12 months' subscription for the price of nine, and a free installation offer lasting until 1 July.

About half the premises taking up the offer will end up paying £135 a month, BT said, while packages for hotels and betting shops could undercut Sky by 75%.

Gloucester Rugby are delighted to announce that ADEY Professional Heating Solutions have agreed a three year deal to become the club's new main sponsor.

The deal was announced at a press conference on Wednesday at Kingsholm Stadium, at which the club also unveiled a sneak preview of their new look home shirt for the 2013-14 season.

ADEY is an award winning Gloucestershire company that has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years. The business invented and produces the MagnaClean filters that maintain and protect central heating systems in nearly two million UK homes.

The former Gloucestershire Business of the Year and Queen's Award for Innovation winner

continues to invest in ongoing product development. The company has previously been listed in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 as the fastest growing independent manufacturing business in the country.

Gloucester Rugby CEO Stephen Vaughan explained that the search for a new main sponsor had been a long, exhaustive one but that ADEY are absolutely the right partner going forward.

"It was hugely important to us to find the best possible match having enjoyed six great years with our previous main sponsor Jewson.

"The process has been ongoing since pretty much the start of the season, and we've obviously spoken to a number of potential partners with a high level of interest.

"However, ADEY are exactly the right fit. They're a young, dynamic company, a success story with their roots in the county. They also have aspirations to expand into Europe and we genuinely hope that we can help them achieve that.

"We're delighted to have them as Gloucester Rugby's new main sponsor and look forward to a long fruitful working relationship with them."

ADEY's Managing Director Kelvin Stevens accepted that the announcement represented a big step for a company that ten years ago was operating from a garden shed.

"We're used to moving quickly and taking sizeable steps and are delighted to be supporting Gloucester Rugby as main club sponsors. The sponsorship will raise our profile beyond the UK heating industry and help us continue our impressive growth in the future.

"While we clearly don't have the long tradition of one of the strongest and best supported rugby clubs in the country, we've come a long way and achieved a huge amount in a short period of time.

"Gloucester Rugby is built on pride and passion and similarly we're extremely passionate about what we do and proud of our success to date. We're a dynamic organisation, ambitious and we believe we've also got a team with exceptional potential.

"And, like Gloucester, we've set our sights firmly on success in Europe, so we have a lot in common.

"All of this is backed up by market leading products that protect heating systems and deliver tangible benefits for householders and the environment.

"We're really looking forward to working with Gloucester Rugby to ensure we communicate these positive messages and achieve our goals together."

As the current rugby season comes to its conclusion, with the top four Aviva Premiership sides competing in this weekend's semi-finals, the multimillion-pound marketing strategy for new rugby broadcaster BT Sport's debut season is already well under way.

Having already forked out £1 billion on TV rights across a range of sports, including up to 69 Aviva Premiership matches per season and 32 Premiership football matches per season, on top of a 10-year lease at their new studio at the Olympic Park in Stratford, it is clear that BT Sport are certainly entering this for the long haul. The task that BT Sport now have to tackle is taking on the might and history of Sky in this domain, and generating enough interest that, ultimately, results in a return on their investment through viewer subscriptions.

BT Sport have recruited a number of high profile players, former players and broadcasting heavyweights, including World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio as the face of their Premiership rugby coverage, in a bid to convert the buzz that has surrounded their entrance into the market into subscriptions for their services.

Former BBC presenter and the new face of BT Sport's Premiership football coverage, Jake Humphreys, stressed that this is not a short-term plan simply to increase the number of internet connections.

"They are showing incredible ambition. They're talking 10 years plus, they're here for the long haul. I don't think you spend £738m on football rights to disappear after three years. You do it as part of a long-term plan."

BT Sport's marketing manager, Alfredo Garicoche, is more effusive still: "We're not thinking for the next two or three years, we're thinking for the next 20 or 30 years and even longer. We're here to play the game. We have the financial backing to play the game and play it well."

They also insist there is a gap in the market for a different kind of presentation, and to offer fans an alternative viewing experience to the one currently available with Sky.

"We've talked internally about it being sport with a smile," says Humphrey. "You want people to turn on and not be sure whether they're watching BT or the BBC. Really good production values, really nice, accessible, open coverage.

"You'll switch on first thing in the morning and won't want to switch off until last thing at night. That's the plan. It's important we give equal standing to everything. If you like rugby, the only place you'll be able to see it is on BT. We've got the tennis. It's important all the other sport is on a level playing field."

The combination and equal footing that BT Sport are placing on the various sports is reflected through marketing photoshoots featuring Everton FC player Marouane Fellaini challenging the Saracens No8 Ernst Joubert as he leaps for a lineout and Humphrey avoiding tennis balls fired at him by Heather Watson, Garicoche adds: "Our style is going to be different. We like to say it's sport with colour, sport with fun. More engaging and approachable maybe. We like the word inclusive as well."

Ads have already appeared in a select amount of out of home spots, carrying the strapline "Great sport happens here".

The telecoms company is set to officially unveil the BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 channels at a press event this Thursday (9 May) at the former Olympic Park where they will be based.

Powered by The Official Technology Provider Microsoft, The Lions Official smartphone and tablet app gives fans the chance to stay close to the action down under with exclusive player interviews, in-depth reviews of the venues and a whole host of other features to really maximise the interactive experience for Lions fans.

Fans can also see which players have been voted the most popular by the Lions supporters and share their selections on Facebook.

Launching the app, Warren Gatland, British & Irish Lions Head Coach said, "The support of The Lions fans, both home and abroad, is truly inspiring and they really do become a sixteenth man. We're excited to launch the innovative app which celebrates the 125th anniversary of The British & Irish Lions, and provides in-depth knowledge of The Tour this summer, bringing fans closer to the action."

Scott Dodds, general manager, marketing and operations, Microsoft, said, "We're working closely with The British & Irish Lions to offer immersive fan experiences through the power of technology. We understand how people want to access information and the app allows fans to connect with The Tour while on the go with their smartphone or tablet."

The app also includes the following features:
News section:
•Interviews with Lions legends and Wallaby heroes from previous series

2013 Tour:
•Fixtures - full schedule and locations of The British & Irish Lions Tour 2013
•Opposition - read-up on the teams who will face The British & Irish Lions
•Match venues - get the lo-down on the stadiums which will host the Sea of Red this summer. Information includes imagery, address, date of game, capacity and the stadia's history with The British & Irish Lions
•The Tom Richards Trophy - named after one of only two players to have played for both the Lions and Australia, this section gives Lions fans the opportunity to read up on their history

Video Gallery:
•Interviews with past players
•2013 Tour Overview
•Lions supporters. Mike Teague explains the importance of touring and how supporters really make a difference

Sea of Red:
•Selection of Lions song sheets so fans can join in the roars of The Lions. Songs include Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Delilah, Jerusalem, The Fields of Athenry, Flower of Scotland, Bread of Heaven and Sospan Fach and Wild Rover.

Lions Legends
•Spotlight on key figures on the tour

The App will evolve over the coming months as the Squad is announced and they head on Tour. All player stats and bios will be included as well the latest official news, along with other unique behind the scenes insights. The app is available on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Android and iOS.

It has been developed by Sequence, the Official App Developer of The British & Irish Lions.
Coming soon, The British & Irish Lions will announce how Microsoft's technology has revolutionised player preparation and made this the first Lions Tour with technology at its core.

It's been a busy week at the Connacht Rugby offices as demand for Season Tickets surged past the 2,000 mark. Over 1,000 season tickets were sold on Monday and Tuesday alone and sales have now easily surpassed those achieved in renewal windows in the previous two seasons.

Head of Marketing & Commercial Alex Saul spoke about the encouraging numbers:

"We were a bit later in opening up our season ticket campaign this year but despite that we've already surpassed the number of sales at this point last year. We've had over 2,300 fans sign up for next season, which is fantastic. The initial indications are that it will be another fantastic year at the turnstiles for Connacht Rugby."

"Our season ticket holders are the lifeblood of this club and that family is growing every year. We worked hard to create a really attractive package whilst balancing the club's needs to continue our growth and development. The reaction so far has shown that people can see the incredible value that's on offer here."

The pre-registration list has also been very successful with people who didn't hold a season ticket last year clambering to register their interest to avail of some very competitive early bird prices.

"Our exclusive renewals offer for current season ticket holders finished on Wednesday and we're now selling to an exclusive pre-registration list of 300 people. These fans are able to guarantee the best sections available at the best prices."

"All in all, it's been an exceptional few weeks and we expect some sections of the ground, like the popular Clan Terrace to sell out before the end of the month".

For full details of Connacht Rugby's 2013/14 season ticket offering including prices and availability please log on to www.connachtrugby.ie/tickets

Aviva Premiership side Leicester Tigers have announced that they have agreed an extension to their agreement with the clubs main sponsor Caterpillar for an additional three years.

Caterpillar, the world leading manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, will continue to have their logo appear across the front of the Tigers playing shirts, as the new strip for the 2013/14 season was unveiled.

Caterpillar Ltd's managing director, Robert Droogleever, said: "The close relationship between Caterpillar and Leicester Tigers has enabled us to positively engage with our customers, dealers and employees from around the globe in a fantastic sporting environment."

"As proud sponsors of Leicester Tigers, we are excited to continue our relationship with the club for a further three-year period."

Meanwhile – ahead of this weekend's match - Canterbury unveiled the new Leicester Tigers home shirt for the 2013/14 season, working together to develop the 'We are Tigers' campaign for the upcoming 2013/14 season.

Following an online competition, eight lucky fans were chosen to feature within the campaign and stand alongside the elite players wearing the new home shirt and training garments.

The new Tigers shirt is engineered using Canterbury's newest high performance fabric. A high performance 100% polyester elastane, the fabric delivers optimum strength and effective moisture management, making the shirt lightweight and comfortable. The elastane also delivers stretch, allowing a tight fit which doesn't restrict movement whilst allowing players to avoid tackles.

Geoff Parling, Canterbury ambassador and Leicester Tigers lock, added:
"Both the Tigers and Canterbury brands are steeped in rugby heritage and the traditional striped shirt is synonymous with the club's long history as one of the most successful and well-known rugby clubs in the world. The team are delighted with this smart, modern twist that Canterbury has applied to the classic Tigers shirt."