Why rugby’s looming TV payday must not mean a salary cap rise

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
Gloucester’s MD Stephen Vaughan tells Frank Dalleres his club is on the up

ENGLISH rugby should resist the temptation to raise its salary cap or risk going the way of football, where clubs have overstretched themselves and spiralled into financial difficulties, Gloucester’s managing director has warned.

Premiership teams are due a windfall next season when a bumper £38m-per-year television deal with BT Sport kicks in, offering a 50 per cent improvement on the current contract with Sky and ESPN.

That has raised the prospect of an increase in the £4.26m salary cap under which each top-flight side must operate, but Gloucester’s Stephen Vaughan believes anything other than a modest rise would be dangerous.

“I would be against it, and if there is a rise I would hope – and will vote – that increase is a sensible one, and not just in line with an increase in revenues you might get from a particular deal,” he told City A.M.

“Just increasing the salary cap by the same amount would be total folly. We’re very much in favour of the salary cap; we believe not having one would ruin the game and not be fair on a number of clubs who just cannot compete with clubs with large benefactors.

“It wouldn’t help the national team either – you only have to look at France.”

Vaughan, whose club are one of only three in the Premiership to record a profit last year, does not share Northampton chairman Leon Barwell’s conviction that some unnamed teams are illegally circumventing the salary cap – and getting away with it.

“I’ve been told by the relevant powers that all clubs are operating within the salary cap and I have to take that at face value,” he added.

“I’d hope the people in power are nimble enough to catch it and have to trust they have the right processes in place.”

Next season’s TV deal is one of a number of reasons former Walsall footballer Vaughan cites for optimism, having joined the West Country outfit late last year after overseeing Thomas Cook’s London 2012 sponsorship. Gloucester are hopeful of only a second play-off place in five seasons (they currently lie fifth) and are optimistic Kingsholm will be selected as a 2015 World Cup venue.

Vaughan has bold plans to grow off-field success by identifying a new principal sponsor, introducing a cashless matchday experience for fans and making the club leaders in technology and social media.

He talks of emulating the stadium experiences of Arsenal and his beloved Aston Villa, and the innovations of Saracens.

“I’m not going to stand by and watch some of those clubs race off into the distance,” he said. “We have to take a leaf out of their book. Some of the things they do are a benchmark to us but hopefully some of the things we do in the future will be a benchmark to them.”

Achieving such progress and finishing in the top four would, he says, help ensure England stars Ben Morgan, Billy Twelvetrees and Freddie Burns resist the lure of domestic rivals or lucrative French rugby, where current captain Jim Hamilton is headed in the summer.

“Of course getting into the top four and winning trophies would be an incredibly useful tool, not just for keeping players but attracting players and from a sponsor and commercial perspective,” added Vaughan, who insists No8 Morgan, centre Twelvetrees and fly-half Burns will all be at Kingsholm next season.

“It puts us right in that shop window and gives players less reason to want to move on. But we ensure we don’t get any surprises and can plan for any eventuality.

“We are not expecting any surprises, those high-profile players coming in and going out have already been announced.”