SRU AGM: 10 things we learned from Mark Dodson’s return to public life

SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson spoke to the press for the first time in 14 months this weekend. This is what he had to say –

SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson spoke to the press for the first time in 14 months after yesterday's AGM. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

MARK DODSON, who had not spoken to the media since the week after the Keith Russell affair broke last June, gave his first open press briefing in 14 months following yesterday’s AGM, fielding a wide range of questions.

This is what he told us –

  • The SRU is debt free, as was claimed in the Annual Report … assuming you don’t count all the money owed.

Every year, and for the last 20 years, we’ve looked at our net cash position and that’s what we’ve always classed as where we are going to be from debt free. It was £23 million at its highest peak, when I came it was 14.4m, and now it is zero.

We always have debts in other parts of our business, around the debentures and whatever, but the key metric we’ve used, the government use, the BBC uses, and everybody talking about our debt for the last 25 years has used, has been around the net cash position.

The issue is quite straight forward. We have a rigorous audit through PWC, their view is that our accounts are absolutely solid, and they’ve been passed by PWC. Andrew Healey has come out this morning at the meeting and told you exactly where we stand, there’s a transparency in exactly what we are saying going back to the debt that we talked about there, we’ve always used that as the basis of our net cash position.

We’ve also got working capital which goes up and down depending on when we’re paid, when the World Cup subsidy comes in, because as you know in World Cup years we don’t have any Autumn internationals so we get our money up front from World Rugby to subsidise that, but it is not as much as we would earn on our own, so we make a loss there this year. There are lots of complicating factors, but the clear factor is that the metric that we’ve been measured against for the last 20 years is at zero.

It depends in what measure you use. If you look at Marks and Spencers’ figures, any of the top 100 now, you’ll get a different opinion of them, that’s what analysts do. All we’re saying is that we’ve been consistent in our measurement and our metric.

  • Despite his [current] strained relationship with the clubs, he believes he is the man to bring Scottish Rugby back together as we enter a brave new world of giant inward investment.

Yeah, I do. We just produced a tremendous set of results. I’m jot sure what more we can do from a governing body or a business perspective. We’ve got record turnover, record investment in the professional game, record investment in the community game and we’re now in a debt free position.

We can now use debt, if we want to, to take us forward with facilities and modernisation of the sport. And our relationships going forward from this date will improve, there’s no doubt.

When you’ve done something as significant as Super 6, a change of that variety, you are always going to cause some turbulence in the broad church, and that’s now been established, we’ve delivered on everything we said we’d deliver on, and I think you’ll see an improvement in relationships going forward.

As a Chief Executive you are learning all the time. You are not going to get changes through as significant as Super 6 unless you are driven, and you try to bring as many people with you as you possibly can – but you are not going to bring everyone with you. That’s what I’ve learned through the process – you have to be bold as you can be. But I now want to mend the relationships that have been buffeted through that [Super 6] process.

  • Production of a live Super 6 match to be shown on the BBC website will be paid for by the SRU.

Our deal is around a partnership between the BBC and ourselves that will grow over time. We’re going to do all the production and we’re going to give it to the BBC for dissemination.

  • The fact that it is on the website and not any BBC channel is a good thing.

Most people our age will want linear television but it’s not the way that the rugby audience we want to engineer is absorbing their media. They want it on their tablets and on their phones, so we believed that it was a better option for us going down this route if we want to attract a younger audience to our game. So, we were quite happy to take the BBC website feed rather than the linear feed.

As far as we’re concerned, the BBC website numbers are unbelievable, the linear stuff on BBC Scotland is probably falling behind that.

  • He doesn’t think there was any obligation on the SRU to have the full accounts for the SRU, which contains details of Executive Director salaries, lodged at Companies House for delegates to view before the AGM.

That’s something we normally do. We lodge the accounts after a period time. That’s something you want to talk to PWC about and Andrew Healey [Finance Director].

  • A new Director of Rugby is likely to be appointed within the next few weeks to oversee High Performance rugby.

Yes, we’re in conversations at the moment and I’m hopeful in the next few weeks we’ll be coming to you and talking to you about an appointment.

To avoid any doubt, many people understood that Scott Johnson was across the whole of the game, domestically and all of that, but this is high performance.

  • The next Director of Rugby won’t be Ben Ryan, but the former Fiji 7s coach – who is currently carrying out a review of the SRU performance department – will have a big say in what the new person’s job entails.

I’ve known Ben for a long time. I spoke to him some time ago. We’re five years into the academy structure and we believe we can do them better and slightly differently. When we started in 2013-14, we had a set amount of money and certain facilities we either secured or were passed to us.

We’re in a very different place now and we need to move on with our academies, potentially making them more local and looking at the best ways to get players through our pathways and into the academies at different levels and stages.
When doing this, I felt it was important that we find out what the industry-leading opinion is, find out what is best-standard across the world. Ben’s been involved with so many unions and the Nike Foundation over in the States, so I felt it was important we benchmark through the work he does.

Ben is reviewing everything, from where our academies are to how they interact with the pro-teams and are we making best use of our age-grades. Ben will be reporting back to me by early-September. He is not in line to be our director of rugby.

  • He doesn’t think there needs to be a Director of Rugby on the Board, despite this being an explicit recommendation of the Dunlop panel/report.

On the board, there are four Council members that live and breathe the game in Scotland. The guys I’ve spoken to, and the people who are candidates to be director of rugby, don’t want to sit on our boards. They’ve no interest because it’s not the best use of their time.

We’re surrounded by internal advice from people like Gregor Townsend, Dave Rennie, Richard Cockerill, John Jeffrey … These guys are all fonts of knowledge we tap into.

The idea of the DOR should sit on the board might have been applicable in 2005, but now the DOR is a very different DOR that was envisaged at the time of Dunlop.

  • The new SCRUMS player registration system – which was launched last season with clubs told that all players must be registered by 31st October 2018 – needs 11 months to calculate how many people are playing the game in this country. 

The data needed cleansing. If we go to you and say this is our latest picture, we have to be absolutely sure we can sit behind those numbers. We’re finishing the data analysis now and we’re posting it in September. The data wasn’t in the form that we could honestly send it out to you and be confident about it.

I’ve no feel for the exact numbers. I think we’ll get a drop across the piece, I’m pretty sure of that because that’s what’s happening everywhere else. As soon as we know the numbers, we’ll share them with you.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreements haven’t completely disappeared from the SRU’s HR repertoire but are not being used with anything like the same frequency as was previously the case.

We’ve signed one NDA since last year. I’m not going to mention any names. We said they would be a commercial tool that we would continue to use and there would be safeguards built around that.

SRU AGM: lack of transparency means building trust is going to be hard

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1644 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. ” I’m jot sure what more we can do from a governing body or a business perspective.”

    Which planet is this man on?

  2. Well nothing changes! They have wasted yet another opportunity to come clean and be transparent.
    Mark Dodson then went on to say that all top tier nations are experiencing a fall in player numbers.
    Did he have a plan to reverse this trend???
    Apologies, silly question on my part. I really should know better by now!

  3. A game of two halfs as you say elsewhere David
    On the cusp of winning hearts and minds then they blew it in the AOB.

    “Theatre” is an insult to member clubs, in a member organisation, but thanks for the comedy Mark: “Scott Johnson…. across…. domestically” will be a runaway winner of Fringe Joke of the year 2019.

    And we are still waiting for a cheep out of you to Dom’s simple, important, question “What are you doing differently after last years problems”

    Maybe we will get that when we get the Scrums numbers which will have been known for months, but sat on.

  4. Super 6 is deemed a Rugby Development project, but managed by Performance Rugby Dept.

    Did anyone ask which budget the cost of producing Super6 TV will be coming from?

  5. The scrums data issue is fascinating

    My sense is the scrums section in Marks speech was a pre emptive strike to the questions that were coming at the AOB section.

    My notes are that he said ” We will produce information on player numbers and trends. It will take a couple of seasons to get the trend data. The player numbers will be published in September. It will show a fall in numbers”

    He then went on to say that all top tier nations are experiencing a fall in player numbers.

    This is different slant to what you present above. I would argue he does know what the number of players is – how could he say there had been a drop if not?

    The idea that there is a data cleanse issue is laughable – scrums eliminated all players who weren’t registered by a specific date. If you weren’t registered on scrums you weren’t allowed to play.

    My take – the number isnt good and it is better fro the SRU to be able to manage the message than deal with further questions from the floor. An issue clubs have been telling the SRU about for years – which they previously denied.

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