IF rugby has not returned in time for the 2020 November Tests, the hit to Scottish Rugby’s turnover will be significantly more than the £12 million mark which has previously been cited, according to Dominic McKay, the organisation’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Mark [Dodson – Scottish Rugby Chief Executive] was speaking about £12m a few weeks ago in respect of our three Autumn Tests, but I think we can safely assume that the number would be north of that on the basis that if we don’t have Autumn Tests then you also wouldn’t have any professional rugby taking place in Scotland,” explained McKay.
“Importantly, you also wouldn’t have grassroots rugby taking place in Scotland, so it would have a profound and significant impact on our finances.”
Understanding the full financial impact of the Covid-19 lockdown and the subsequent social distancing measures which will likely be required until a vaccine is found, has been a process of gradual realisation for those running the game.
Last Tuesday, Bill Sweeney, Chief Executive of the RFU, gave a fairly bleak assessment of the impact on English rugby if the Autumn Tests don’t go ahead, when he appeared in front of a hearing held by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS].
“If they go ahead but behind closed doors that is a negative impact of £85m and if they are cancelled entirely that will be £107m on top of the £15m we have already lost,” he said. “So, it is a very significant loss of revenue and we are doing what we can to mitigate it.”
This was just over a month after the RFU had forecast £45-50m in lost revenue over the next 18 months as a consequence of the crisis, which gives a fairly sobering indication of just how quickly the projected financial damage is escalating.
Scottish Rugby has not, so far, been as forthcoming and detailed about their financial modelling, but McKay insisted that Murrayfield is being as open and transparent as it can be in the circumstances.
“Things are constantly changing just now,” he reasoned. “As we get more clarity on the furlough scheme and how long that’s going to go on for, that will enable us to make further updates.
“With the way things are at the moment, as soon as you reference a number, it can then be out of date very quickly.
“But, from an operations point of view, we do recognise that it’s a significant challenge. We’ve had some amazing sponsors who are standing by us and being so supportive, including broadcasters. We’re very grateful to them.”
“We’ve seen the numbers that have been shared by others and the numbers that were shared at the DCMS committee,” he continued. “It just shows that every governing body – regardless of size or financial muscle – is facing an enormous challenge.
“The only way that we’re going to protect our respective sports is by making some tough decisions, but also by working really closely with our governments. Our governments will be key to getting sport restarted.
“Once sports restarts, only then can the sport start generating revenue again to protect itself.”
Making the most of Murrayfield
Like all other sports, Scottish Rugby’s hands are tied until government advice allows them to move forward, but they are proactively looking at ways to minimise the damage, including the creation of a self-contained hub at Murrayfield where various elite sports can return to action in a safe environment – which could lead to football’s Scottish Cup semi-final between Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian being played at the national stadium.
“We’re just scoping that out,” said McKay. “This week’s conversation with the government was just the first step on that journey, to say: ‘is this something that would be of interest?’
“The feedback we got was that they would like us to develop that concept a bit further, so we’ll now take it away. It covers a whole raft of areas, but we’re fortunate that we have a great, large, open-air site at Murrayfield which lends itself to being configured in any way we wish it to be configured.
“It’s a very flexible space, so anything from managing the entry – who comes in and out – to thermal imaging opportunities on arrival, the one-way system around the site, the ability for players to park at the side of the pitch and go straight onto that pitch from their car.
“We’ve got some thoughts on that, but we’re going to detail it a bit further and that’s the work that’s being done by James Robson [Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer] and the team. We’ve got some smart people looking at that, looking at examples of best practice from other parts of the world.
“For us to solve the sporting challenge that we’ve got, we must collaborate, and I was very strong on that at Tuesday’s meeting [with Scottish Government Sport Minister Joe FitzPatrick]. In Scotland, sometimes we’re a bit parochial, so if we can collaborate around how stadia might operate, how training venues might operate, how grassroots might operate in terms of messaging and advice, that can only be a good thing for the whole country right now.”