Rugby Thoughts – Aviva Premiership Salary Cap

I talked about Governance of the game previously and the Aviva Premiership news that they have finished their salary cap investigations with a cash settlement has brought it to the forefront again. The piece that got me back to the key board though was listening to Brian Moore interviewing Quentin Smith the Chairman of the Aviva Premiership. If you want to have a listen search for the Full Contact Rugby Show on iTunes.

Smith said that the reports and especially comparisons with FIFA were unnecessary alarmist and misinformed. Unfortunately when asked for the facts he hid behind confidentiality agreements. When asked to deny specific rumours he avoided the question but saying he could deny all as he only dealt in facts. This circular defence might work legally but this is a battle of public opinion not the court room. This lack of transparency just leads to mistrust and rumours getting believed.

As he goes on to point out the salary cap is a self-imposed rule and not something that is imposed upon them. The same also applies to the confidentiality agreements surrounding it. This means that the Aviva Premiership as an entity could choose to release all the information but they choose not to.

The salary cap legislation is very complicated and each year apparently they have to refine it from the finds of the salary cap commissioner who review all the teams. As the stated purpose of the salary cap is to produce a level playing field this is very strange. The problem is that the real reason for the salary cap was to stop the clubs going broke due to escalating salaries of players. The level playing field is a nice by-product that is a good sell to the punters.

There are two ways to try something new that isn’t explicitly covered by a regulation. You either ask if it’s OK to do something or you do it and ask for forgiveness later if it’s wrong. Clearly the approach by at least some clubs is the latter. This is what has led to the investigation and two sets of lawyers giving differing opinions. The easy way out of this would be for all the clubs to agree to ask first before trying anything new. For that to happen though all the teams need to be on the same page and agree that it’s the right way forward. If they are trying to set a level playing field then this is a no brainer but clearly there are clubs that are looking for any edge to win.

This is all contradictory to one of the last things that Smith said. He said that despite of clubs with differing ambitions, sizes, but gets etc… All the clubs were on board and committed to a salary cap. Also to a robust system to enforce that salary cap. When you hear/read public announcements by representatives of some clubs saying that they want the salary cap abolished and even that a minimum salary spend should be enforced, it’s hard to believe everybody is on board. When it’s hard to trust one statement from a body it makes you question everything else it does and this is bad for the sport going forward.

In my previous piece I reference the NFL which is another league owned by its participants. Over there the owners know not to fight NFL decisions on breeches of regulation. The reason being that in the long run it’s bad for business to be fighting among yourselves. Clubs are different to other businesses in that they normally aren’t fighting for the same supporters/customers. This means that they should be cooperating to increase the profile of the league as a whole as it is good for all but clearly that concept is not grasped or believed by all the clubs. Until the clubs do all work in the same direction and agree to having strong clear governance they are going to be holding themselves back both in getting more supporters and sponsors.

To have a read about my views of governance of rugby globally, check out my piece “Rugby Thoughts – Governance of the Game“.

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