Analysis: Mark Dodson’s AGM presentation provided more questions than answers

Four year cycle explanation for £10.5m operating loss to May 2023 doesn't make sense

Mark Dodson during the Scottish Rugby AGM at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh last month. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Mark Dodson during the Scottish Rugby AGM at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh last month. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

ACCORDING to Mark Dodson in his opening remarks at Scottish Rugby’s AGM on 18th November:

“The rising cost of the professional and international game together with the residual costs of Covid has resulted in the collapse of famous and well-established clubs in England and straitened times for Welsh region – and none of us are immune from the issues which affect our sport, but we in Scotland are safer than most and better insulated from the uncertainties of the market.”

Scottish Rugby’s Chief Executive is right that English and Welsh rugby currently face a largely self-inflicted crisis. So, benchmarking is an extremely worthwhile and valid exercise. But it should be set against the Union most similar in terms of size, shape, structure and culture.

  • Scottish Rugby’s turnover has grown 72.8% from £39.3m to £67.9m in the ten years since 2013 – but costs have risen by a mammoth 104.1% from £38.4m to £78.4m.
  • IRFU’s turnover has grown 63.5% from £55.0m to £90.0m in the same period – but costs have only risen a just-about-manageable 75.7% from £52.2m to £91.7m.
  • Irish Rugby had budgeted for a loss of €7.4m for the year to 31st July 2023, but managed to hold their deficit to €1.0m on the back of their on-field success and a new sponsorship deal with the Bank of Ireland for their Autumn Tests.
  • They have, however, welcomed this outcome with a healthy dollop of realism.
  • IRFU chief executive Kevin Potts estimates that the 2023 World Cup will hit his 2024 bottom line for €10m in terms of additional player and logistic costs and the loss of the Autumn Tests even after World Rugby’s €5m grant.
  • He is, however, nothing if not utilitarian in his approach: “I often speak about the IRFU living within its means, only spending funds we have or can predict with relative certainty, and I am determined that we will continue to adhere to this in the medium to long term.”

 

  • IRFU (13.6%) and SRU (12.6%) are both light of the 15% of turnover earmarked for the community game in Scottish Rugby’s new governance structure – but Scottish Rugby’s 1% differential with the IRFU, would, if applied to the 2023 turnover, have put an additional £678k into the club game.
  • Scottish Rugby spent 20.1% of turnover on their Commercial and Administrative activities – a function, without doubt, of Scottish Rugby’s bloated and overpaid payroll and its outrageous executive remuneration packages, but a full explanation is needed for the line on page 58 of the Annual Report indicating that Commercial Costs included “our contribution to Six Nations running costs and the revenue share to private equity”.
  • Meanwhile, Chief Financial Officer Hilary Spence, in her pre-AGM video conference briefing to clubs, explained that the cost of dealing with private equity investors had increased by £1.3m.
  • Scottish Rugby spent 15% of turnover on Facilities against only 2.8% by IRFU, Page 59 of the Annual Report tells us that: ‘These costs are mainly the costs of running Murrayfield and the events that happen there , including insurance costs, maintenance, utilities and rates. More games means more investment here, with 7 v 6 international home games and improved Women and Girls events in the period.” But these costs are not investments – and the spiralling maintenance charges are a backwash from years of physical neglect.
  • The note goes on: “Other investments relate to international team payments for activity outside Regulation 9 (the regulation that governs the release of players for international duties) and post-Covid relief”  with absolutely no explanation of what these costs might be or why they should be charged to ‘Facilities’.

 

It was difficult to follow the logic of Dodson’s claim at the AGM that “the four-year cycle which has historically ended with rising revenues will demonstrate that your Union is on a sound financial footing, providing money to develop the game at every single level”, given that three home Six Nations games and four Autumn Tests in 2022-23 must have been at the top of the cycle yet produced a £10.5m loss.

And Dodson’s premise is further jeopardised by Irish Rugby’s anticipated €10m World Cup hangover, because he, too, lost his Autumn Tests, while the national team’s three and a bit month training camp followed by more than a month in single rooms based at the luxurious Golden Tulip Hotel in Valbonne could not have come cheap.

Patrick Kennedy, the IRFU’s Honorary Treasurer says in the notes to his accounts: ‘The underlying €7m deficit will continue into the future unless increased revenues are sourced or costs are reduced”. With a £10.5m loss for 2022-23, a big hit coming from the 2023 World Cup, and no concrete prospect of growth, it does not look good going forward for Scottish Rugby.

Potts said in issuing the IRFU Annual Report: “We’ve a greater responsibility to the wider game in the longer term and if we started to spend too much money on the professional game, money we cannot afford, ultimately that’s going to have an impact on the long-term health of Irish Rugby. That’s not going to happen here, certainly not on my watch”.   

Dodson was not quite so circumspect at Scottish Rugby’s AGM: “I’ve heard criticism that consistently referencing the importance of securing our financial position somehow implies a lack of respect for our club game. Future proofing our financial well-being is the single most important task of your executive and we are at pains to emphasise the virtuous circle that connects us all. But, simply put, without sufficient money, we can’t fund the great work that goes on across our organisation, at every level, and in your clubs”.

Unfortunately, the numbers do not validate this proposition. The International/Professional game ran at a net loss of £662k in 2022 and £1.2m in 2023, and so could make zero contribution to the community game, which was, of necessity, entirely funded out of what should have been reserves.

 

Dodson went on to say:  “We undoubtedly have challenges across the game, bit nothing like the ones we faced a decade or so ago. Then we had £32m of turnover, £17m of debt, no reserves, we were 13th in them men’s game and nowhere on the women’s game. 

He was presumably referring to 2011 when he took over from Gordon McKie; but, in fact, that turnover of £35m produced a surplus of £1.2m as opposed to a £10.5m loss, and Net Current Liabilities were £8.6m against £10.4m in 2020 before the Scottish Government’s Covid rescue and the CVC windfall – which are now being gratuitously frittered away. At that point, Scotland Men were ranked seventh (we are not aware of them ever being 13th) in the world (and they are currently sixth), while Scotland Women were 15th (currently eighth).

There is a cold wind blowing through British rugby with a tough economy, ridiculously inflated player wages and the CVC clawback – even before we start worrying about concussion.

The IRFU has felt the draught and hunted out the thermals.

Has Mark Dodson?


Nomination process launched for ‘Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month’

39 Comments

  1. This is not a support for Dodson.

    What the author failed to mention or didn’t do their research. All tickets sold for Republic of Ireland sports team pay 0 % Vat. This is the same for all of non profit sports team in the Republic. How much is that worth? I would guess with out this tax break the IRFU would be in the same position as most Unions. (not the SRU as that’s more than others)

    Not to mention the Republic having tax breaks for players, subsidising stadium development, subsidising all private schools to the tune of €10000 per child per year – no surprise they are turning exceptional talent at a rate of knots. Their top school is in the world schools final.

    Maybe we should be benchmarking governments as well as Unions.

    Now do you think it’s an equal comparison?

  2. So Mr Dodson believe all is well because the SRU are not the basket cases that the RFU and WRU are and then goes on to take credit for the fact that no Scottish club has gone bust despite the fact that the SRU have all but abandoned Scottish club rugby below the ludicrous S6.

    It’s difficult to judge what is worse his hypocrisy, his delusion or his personal greed.

  3. Another major issue I can see with the SRU and finances is moving the women’s team(s) to professional. They generate almost no income, so really can’t be considered professional in the true sense of the word. The millions being spent on them is coming out of the men’s and community game.

    I’m as supportive of the women’s game as anyone, but we simply can’t afford to match the like of the RFU and others in terms of propping up women’s rugby as a ‘professional’ game.

  4. The usual smoke and mirrors from the man at the top!! We are in a worse position financially and with player numbers during his time in charge! Player pathway is pathetic and there is little interest from the ‘powers at be’ within in ivory towers of Murrayfield shown towards club rugby!

  5. All the Dodson fan club coming out here in a blitz defence. The problem with a blitz defence is that its focused on one particular area of the field.

    There are a few constants in this universe including basic arithmetic and maths that underpin accounting principles. You can’t hide from them.

    Dodson has used smoke and mirrors for years to beguile the already beguiled even further.

    This all points to one thing – the collapse of our union.

    No amount of grandstanding or comparative diversions will make any difference to that.

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  6. Interesting to see the complaints about the unfairness of comparing SRU to IRFU. Seems the issue is in making any comparison at all. As with all financial metrics its about understanding whats happening across comparable organisations to see what they do that works and what hasn’t gone so well. This is a tried and tested view of company performance. The Financial Times has been doing this sort of work since 1888 and seem to be doing it well.

    So for the hard of thinking at the back here are some other ways to look at the numbers

    Profit & Loss
    Australia £4.3M
    WRU £3.2M
    IRFU -£1.68M
    RFU -£6.1M
    SRU -£10.5M

    So Australia despite their well noted issues managed a healthy profit in their last accounts.

    CEO Salary
    RFU 684K
    SRU 676K
    WRU 359K

    Australia dont detail the who the highest paid director is or their remuneration. For comparative purposes they list directors salaries as £463K

    An interesting view is to look at CEO salary and generation of revenue. The RFU CEO produces £324 for every £1 of salary. SRU CEO produces £100
    RFU 324
    WRU 263
    Australia 146
    SRU 100

    Profit or loss as a % of turnover
    Australia 6.35%
    WRU 3.39%
    IRFU -1.84%
    RFU -2.76%
    SRU -14%

    The above doesnt paint a great picture of comparative performance across different Unions for Scottish Rugby. The only place we seem to do well is in CEO compensation.

    Feel free to tear this apart or show the workings of why we shouldnt be looking at SRU in this way.

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    • Interesting comparisons Dom. I wasn’t critical of making comparisons more saying that our deficit is very poor irrespective of what others numbers look like. As it turns out we seem to be bottom of the league on all the financials. All the RU’s have different models in terms of how they are organised and fund the Pro teams but the bottom line is are you covering your costs on an annual basis. We are clearly not and don’t seem to even want to talk about it.

    • My issue was with the comparison in the article, not the numbers.

      > that English and Welsh rugby currently face a largely self-inflicted crisis. So, benchmarking is an extremely worthwhile and valid exercise.

      Either compare with all, or not at all as funding and governance are different in each Union.

      You are 100% right on all those points and figures.

      A CEO SRU should be on ~£350k for the given size. I don’t have an issue with relative bonuses if the on and off-field improvement year-on-year performance KPIs have been met. But even those can be opaque. This is where a board should hold the senior exec team accountable – are they strong enough?

      • Chris that’s completely nonsensical. Compare with all or not at all???

        I’ve just done that. Which ever way you cut and dice it Scottish Rugby is performing badly. There was no acknowledgment at the AGM of the consequences of running a £10.5m loss.

        The RFU acknowledge that the World Cup year is going to be costly and are projecting a £5m deficit for a few years.

        No word from Murrayfield on how they get back into positive financial territory. You don’t need benchmarks to know that is deeply worrying.

      • The article needed to compare with two or more to provide a balanced view. Using one very successful Union is just being biased to prove a point.

        The figures you have in your post are more enlightening and balanced research as they compare multiple Union’s finances.

        I’m not disputing the need for a change.

      • Why would anyone benchmark themselves against a less successful organisation which they surely don’t want to emulate?

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  7. Too many behind the scenes at Murrayfield remind me of the grifters and no hopers across the city at Holyrood. Allergic to transparency and accountability.

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  8. None of which is going to helped by an obviously significant drop in attendance at Warriors matches including a hallowed Friday night European cup game against an English team. Add to this the lack of growth in the Edinburgh fan base despite the shiny new stadium. Everything at the SRU under Dobson has been focused on the international game including the pro sides with their bloated squads and the huge increase in wage bills of coaches, project players etc etc.There has been absolutely no return on the investment apart from massaging narsissist Dobsons ego and filling his bank account and pension pot with millions of pounds.

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    • And don’t mention the FOSROC Super Six… a total flop, but as it was Dodson’s ‘brain child’ it must be good!!

  9. A well known journalist on the OSL , several weeks ago over coffee was expressing his concern regarding the burgeoning payroll costs for the SRU and their inability to get rid of staff. This must have a huge contribution to the deficit.Rocket science is not needed for running an organisation like the SRU but simple level headed, non-congratulatory business common sense and TOUGHNESS when it comes to payroll. Salries of players, and not least, “managers” , seem to be generous and how Dodson’e deal was ever agreed is a puzzle to me.As an aside, a friend was at a business meeting recently and the quality of food served in one of the hospitality suites was dreadful and wouldn’t encourage her to have her business meet there. The “fortress” is creaking that’s for sure.

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  10. I commented previously when the results came out that a £10m loss on a turnover of £68m was a worrying situation in a business where costs and expenditure are highly predictable and therefore the loss would have been predicted.

    To hear that this did not get any coverage at the AGM and that a picture of financial strength was painted is deeply worrying. You don’t need to be a financial expert to understand the basic numbers. I am at a loss to understand what the SRU are playing at by not even recognising this situation and indicating what plans they have to balance the books. This smacks of burying your head in the sand but surely the finance director should be all over this and highlighting the issue and need for financial prudence to the wider board.

    I like the quote from the IRFU CEO – “I often speak about the IRFU living within its means, only spending funds we have or can predict with relative certainty, and I am determined that we will continue to adhere to this in the medium to long term.”
    Thats the sort of prudent stance that is a must for any organisation of this nature. I fear for next years figures when we only have 2 home 6 Nations games.

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      • so is a very dubious and healthy £20 million injection of “COVID” related support by the Scottish government. What are the terms of that as surely it will be required to be paid back as it is public money

  11. Just as you were saying they shouldn’t be compared to the WRU and RFU, why should we be compared to the IRFU? This comment is not to justify the poor financial performance of the SRU, just to provide a more critical view of the article.

    Yes, the IRFU are commercially way way ahead of us. But we can’t be compared with them. The structure of IRFU is made up of the branches (Leinster, Ulster) so each will get a pot of money and an Irish player’s salary paid – the rest is on the branches.

    Take Facilities as another point of reference. They only own part of the brand new Aviva stadium, the other part being with the Football Association of Ireland. They don’t pay anything towards, unless it’s a loan, to any of the branches’ stadiums. So 2.8% of their expenses.

    The SRU are the single tenant of an ageing Murrayfield, they’ve just built and now have to maintain mini Murrayfield and also Scotstoun (can’t imagine the Glasgow Council being very supportive). So 15% of their expenses.

    The pro teams commercially are seriously underperforming compared to the Irish. The decentralisation model has worked for them in more ways than one.

    There is no point in trying to compare each country’s structures as each has its own nuanced set of pros and cons. The Irish seemed to have hit the purple patch of pros.

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    • Chris, Irrespective of who you compare the SRU against – it doesnt really matter. The facts are a £10m loss which is a big problem. It doesnt make it any better or worse that other RU’s have different numbers. You need to cut your cloth to suit.

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      • I agree, as I stated I think this does look poor. High salaries = high-performance company. On the face of these accounts that is not happening.

        I just don’t think a comparison like this is constructive as each country is different and operates under a different set of circumstances: internal politics, external politics, people’s attitudes, timings, etc… you could create a long list of reasons why.

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      • But why choose Ireland? Only the author can explain that. Rugby all over the world has struggled with professionalism. Yes it doesn’t help out position but it would be helpful for the readers to show how some other countries are struggling and this is not unique to Scotland

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      • Paragraph 3:

        “Scottish Rugby’s Chief Executive is right that English and Welsh rugby currently face a largely self-inflicted crisis. So, benchmarking is an extremely worthwhile and valid exercise. But it should be set against the Union most similar in terms of size, shape, structure and culture.”

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      • Keep in mind that the Irish provinces are 100% branches of the IRFU – they own nothing and are fully funded by IRFU with all revenue and costs consolidated within the IRFU accounts, and they have no employees.

        The IRFU structure is a mirror image of SRU so perfect for benchmarking. The rationale behind benchmarking is amelioration rather than castigation. In this instance, if we do not ameliorate quickly Scottish Rugby will go bust!

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      • So are you telling me they run the Aviva, RDS, Thomond Park, Musgrave Park, Galway Greyhound Stadium and Kingspan Stadium all for £2.5 million a year?

        Yes, £10 million is not good.

    • Who would be a good comparator then?

      Seems to me that other Unions are the only thing we can compare them against. We. An recognise the different business models that each Union operates with. RFU and WRU have hotels so have revenue and costs from that stream.

      To put this another way – we were bailed out by the Scottish Govt during covid. We have taken finance from private equity which we are paying a healthy fee for. It’s these two sources that are paying for these deficits. Without those cash streams we would be bust or a very different sized organisation to what we have today.

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      • Don’t compare. Look at the numbers.

        People want to fit a pretty lazy narrative, in the article, all the facts aren’t being considered. The facts are there as Ross Kinnear points out – you don’t need to make the square fit in a circle to prove a point.

        Commercially SRU has to work a lot harder than the IRFU because the whole setup has been designed around a centralised model. They are failing at this currently so rightly the questions need to be asked.

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      • A lazy narrative??

        What’s lazy about comparing organisations whose purpose is rugby? That seems self evident to me.

        We can then make judgements about the business set up and results each produces.

        Where we might be agreeing is this – no one expects SRU to copy the IRFU. It is perfectly legitimate to compare their finances, headcount, CEO remuneration and tournament performance.

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    • Well said, I don’t know why Ireland is chosen to compare us against, there are other countries that could easily be chosen. We got absolutely no help from government in the build of Murrayfield, a stadium ahead of its time. We are now suffering for our foresight. Their government helped bring their international players back to Ireland, helping the popularity of the sport. You could go on about the differences, Australia might be a better country to use for comparisons !

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      • Murrayfield was fully funded by non-interest-bearing debentures which has no impact on the current operating statement – though it might very well come into play when the years of physical neglect eventually paralyse the stadium.

        Irish rugby players do benefit from the Irish Governments ‘Sportsperson’s Tax Relief’ but that is incidental to the IRFU being able to ‘invest’ 3% more of their turnover in International & Professional Rugby than SRU, because of efficiencies elsewhere.

  12. I don’t think you can compare it with the IRFU.

    Their branches (ie Leinster, Ulster etc) are independently run (with support from IRFU) compared to Scotland where everything is centrally run. So the numbers there will be skewed.

    If you look at facilities the IRFU only need to half-manage the brand new Aviva. It’s part-owned by the Football Association of Ireland. 2.8% of their expenses. SRU have the ageing big Murrayfield, mini Murrayfield, and Scotstoun to pay out for. 15% of their expenses.

    The numbers do show the commercial underperformance of the pro teams for Scotland.

    I don’t the we can now afford the high level of salaries paid out to the senior leaders.

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  13. Good to see Mr Dodson looking as well-fed as ever in these austere times. I am no economist, but I am a concerned rugby supporter. The real difference for me when it comes to bangs for bucks is the state of the respective national teams, the pro clubs and grass roots. Ireland – a nation of not dissimilar size – is flying high in a way that we could only possibly dream of: World Cup quarter finalists who put us to the sword and could easily have won the tournament; a savvy national coach who has drilled his players to produce results and brought way more success in a couple of years than ours has in seven; considerably more folk coming through the turnstiles and paying cold hard cash; four successful URC teams, each with its own academy and excellent connections to the many schools that play the game; a conveyor belt of great new talent and the ability to hang onto their star players. There is a connection between all of these that is had to ignore.

    Worrying to my limited financial brain is the cost of maintaining Murrayfield compared to the AVIVA- £10.1M versus £2.5m. How is that even possible? The Scottish national stadium hasn’t see a refurb in decades, whereas the Irish have a brand new shiny one – albeit far too weirdly lopsided for my liking. Not to mention the fact that Twickenham and the Millennium have likewise been transformed since our ancient facelift. And how much is a 72% increase in turnover over ten years really worth once you take away inflation? Again admittedly I’m not an economist, but I do recognise that a bottom-line deficit of over £10m is shockingly worse than £1.6m and cannot be sustained indefinitely – unless of course you’re Man Utd.

    Dodson’s logic seems to be that ‘It could be worse. There is one World Cup semi-finalist out there that is in all kinds of trouble with collapsing clubs and a growing player emigration crisis. In the land of blind giants, the wee one-eyed man is king!’ That may be so, but how exactly does it help us?

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  14. There was a great business catchphrase I was taught a number of years ago “Turnover is ego,profit is real”. Sounds like Dodson needs to learn that one-and quickly before things run away out of control.
    Its difficult to see any immediate improvement without significant costcutting as the income side is unlikely to rise significantly (especially with only two home 6N matches in 2024).

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    • Ardent – the third part of your prudent financial catchphrase would be “Cashflow is King”.

      This is highly significant, because solvency will prove to be crucial in the SRU’s case – as it was a couple of years ago when they were struggling to keep the lights on at Murrafield, unable to pay day-to-day bills whilst the auditors were refusing to sign off the accounts “going concern” certificate and the bank were not prepared to extend the operational borrowing facilities. Then, they got lucky due to the twin windfalls from CVC & the Scottish Government (whose £20 million bung has still not been properly or fully accounted for, despite our continuing pressure via FOISA.)

  15. “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” It’s a pretty straightforward lesson.

    Not long to go before CEO Dodson, like Dickens’ character Wilkins Micawber, will be hoping anxiously that “something will turn up”.

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  16. Spin meet reality.

    Great analysis that cuts to the heart of the matter. As I sat through the finance briefing and the AGM I was intrigued by the don’t worry about this loss it’s not really a loss spin. Given our highest ever revenue, that must be cause for concern.

    Mr Micawber has a catchy quote for this scenario.

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