Well, because they have been deemed to have failed to meet certain criteria relating to infrastructure, the London-based club have been denied their chance to join the top-flight, pending the appeal process.
The Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby have both faced criticism for their stance towards the second tier, whether that be funding related, or an apparent lack of flexibility over stadium capacity rules.
Current Premiership coaches have even suggested that clubs outside the top division are held to a higher standard than those already there.
But if anyone is expecting Premiership Rugby to soften their position, they should think again. “I would have no-compromise standards,” chairman Martyn Phillips told City A.M.
“I don’t think we should apologise for that. We shouldn’t be finding reasons to lower the standards or change them year after year.
“I think there needs to be a really good, high standard.”
English rugby currently demands top-flight clubs have a minimum capacity of 10,000, twice as high as in football’s Premier League.
“I don’t even think about the attendances, I just think it’s such a lazy way of looking at things. It’s probably a proxy for something, but I’m not sure what,” added Phillips.
“The better debate would be for the Premiership to be the competition it wants to be, what are the critical factors on and off the pitch, and try to have as few as possible that teams and the league need to deliver on. You cannot erode your brand.”
Pay the fine
Rob Baxter, director of rugby at Exeter Chiefs, the last club to get promoted and sustain their position in the top-flight, last week told the Daily Mail: “It’s ridiculous how many hoops we had to jump through.
“Then you go to Bath and sit in changing rooms that have not been fit for purpose since day one of the Premiership. They don’t have to re-adjust them – they just have to pay the fine every year.”
“This is a brand,” said Phillips. “We want people engaged with that, whether that be players, supporters, or owners.
“In that sense, I agree with Rob [Baxter] that we want to have good changing rooms and academies and so there needs to be a base level for the brand that says ‘this is what you’re going to get on game day’.”
Phillips joined Premiership Rugby as chairman late last year having previously been chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union and managing director of the British and Irish Lions. His background is in retail, notably DIY chain B&Q, and more recently private equity.
CVC Capital Partners has been growing its influence in rugby, and now holds stakes in multiple competitions including Premiership Rugby and the Six Nations.
Club World Cup
Phillips calls private equity involvement “a good thing for rugby”. He added: “Rugby is quite fragmented. In the UK, people may think it is perhaps a bit of a bigger sport than it really is. It’s really only eight to 10 countries, to any extent.
“CVC’s involvement [across the sport] has been really powerful in getting alignment around the vision, bringing some ambition and getting it a little bit more joined up.”
A joined-up private equity strategy is something many say the bigwigs in the sport are after. It would allow for a synchronised strategy which could eventually see the men’s game mirror the new women’s international set-up in having a global calendar.
Phillips believes there’s scope for the club game to grow through private equity, too.
“It’s time and investment,” he said. “It’s about making your choices consciously and we’re [Premiership Rugby] right in the guts of that at the minute.
“Simon [Massie-Taylor, new chief executive] is leading that work and in a month or two we will be really clear on where we want to place our chips.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to get seduced by what I used to call in my old job [at the WRU] flag planting around the world because it looks great but it’s not always what fans want [such as matches in Singapore].
“We could get a Club World Championship, and that would be a really good thing for the club game and should bring a lot of interest.
“We’ve always said we need a 65-week year for rugby so something will have to give. If we can sort it sensibly, I think it will be a good and interesting thing to do.”
So much of modern sport is intertwined with solid marketing and communications; it’s the foundation of clubs being able to gauge what their fans are thinking.
“We’ve got to tell our story as effectively as we can,” he said. “I think the product is really, really good so our job is to raise people’s interest and market ourselves more effectively.”
Phillips is in his infancy as Premiership Rugby’s chair but with potential plans around marketing, a Club World Cup and robust standards on promotion and facilities, he could be ruffling feathers for the entirety of his tenure.