Annual Report: Money makes the world go round but players are the game

Welcome increase in revenue - but lack of clarity on player numbers remains a serious cause for concern

Steven Longwell carries the ball for Ayr versus Heriot's in the Premiership Grand Final. Image: © Craig Watson -

SCOTTISH RUGBY published its Annual Report yesterday [Friday] with rather less fanfare than has been customary in recent years. It appeared on their website (although not on the front page) at lunch-time, and hard copies have been posted to clubs. However, there was no press release from Murrayfield.

This perhaps reflects a change in tact from the governing body in terms of how it communicates with the outside world after a torrid 14-month period during which a series of governance malfunctions and PR blunders have obliterated the previous sense of invincibility.

Last summer’s policy by SRU top-brass to spin their way out of trouble in the aftermath of the Keith Russell affair may have achieved its primary purpose, but it left a bitter taste amongst many rank and file rugby supporters who felt they had been manipulated, and it seems a more low-key approach to media management has since been adopted.

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That said, there is plenty in this year’s annual report for the governing body to be positive about – even if a lack of detail in certain key areas reflects the fact that not everything is swimming care-free in the Scottish rugby pond.

The stand-out figure in the report as far as the SRU are concerned relates to a record turnover of £61.1m, which is a 6.7% rise on the £57.2 reported last year.

The chief driver for this growth is ticket income, which is up 27.9%, from £12.3m in 2017-18 to £15.8m in 2018-19. This reflects the fact that Scotland had three home matches in the 2019 Six Nations and also took a cut from their extra Autumn Test match against Wales (although presumably slightly less than initially anticipated after they were shamed into agreeing to donate ‘a six-figure sum’ to Doddie Weir’s foundation).

Counting the cost

Against the climb in income, costs have jumped 9.9% from £55.1m in 2017-18 to £60.5m this year, leaving an operating surplus of just over £0.5m (compared to £2.2m last year).

The front-page of the Annual Report also notes that income growth has been 74% since 2011 (when Mark Dodson joined the organisation as chief executive), but not surprisingly neglects to mention that costs have grown by 84% in the same time period.

The continued lack of perspicuity in the ‘costs’ column means that the level of expenditure on contentious policies, such as non-disclosure agreements for departing staff, and ‘strategic’ alliances with Old Glory DC and Stade Niçois, remains a mystery.

The director’s fees of non-executive Board members show  a rise “in line with the standard inflationary increase applied in the organisation as a whole”.

Meanwhile, the recent custom of withholding executive salary details until the accounts are lodged at Companies House continues. Last year, with the Keith Russell storm still blowing strong, the financial statements were submitted on the Thursday before the AGM, revealing that the salary of the highest paid executive had dropped from £563k per annum in 2017 to £455k, while the total remuneration for the four executive directors – Dodson, Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay, General Counsel Robert Howat and Finance Director Andrew Healy – had fallen to £990k as opposed to £1,137k in 2017. It will be interesting to see whether executive pay has recovered during this year when the accounts are eventually submitted, which will presumably be before next Saturday’s AGM.

Player power

The report also provides details of the work being carried out by Sheila Begbie and her ‘Rugby Development’ department in restructuring the domestic game, with five regional directors, 12 regional managers, five coach development officers, five regional administrators and three regional competition administrators now in place to ‘decentralise control’ of the game into ‘smaller regions’ as part of a programme to create ‘sustainable clubs’. There is plenty of impressive stats about roadshows helping clubs and individuals grow the game.

There is also – on the front page of the Annual Report – stats about: fans attending the PRO14 Grand Final at Celtic Park [47,128], fans passing through Scottish Rugby turnstiles [708,434], the highest number of Scotland season passes sold [21,267], fans following Scottish Rugby’s social media platforms [811k].

But there is one glaring omission.

Despite the SRU’s new ‘SCRUMS’ player registration system being launched last year, with players required to register by 31st October (or otherwise be removed from the system meaning that they become ineligible for the electronic team-sheets required in every league/cup match), the number of people actually playing the game remains a secret. According to our most recent requests, the required data ‘is still coming in from clubs and schools’ and ‘the collation and verification process is still on-going’.

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About David Barnes 3989 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. On players numbers i would guess their are some careful conversations needed with funders such as Scottish Gov and Sports Scotland. Possibly a bit of over promising and under achieving, not an unusual problem if a good base line and methodolgy was never put in place. Certainly scrums should give numbers in seconds. Just a guess though!

  2. Can’t think why the player stats aren’t being published. What we know for a certainty is that if they were in anyway positive they would be splashed all over the report and the media.

    You can draw your own conclusions from that.

  3. The players numbers bit is a big mystery – Murrayfield staff have had a full season of player registration details, yet no stats on how many peopel are participating in the game, or how often.

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