Premiership Rugby calls in PwC to guide restart plans

26 June 2020 3 min. read
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Professional services giant PwC has been called on by Premiership Rugby to help plans to restart the season. Like football’s Premier League, the contest had been suspended due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

In March, Premiership Rugby League (PRL) Chief Executive Darren Childs insisted it was his ambition for top flight rugby in England to be “the first sport back on TV” after the Covid-19 lock-down eased. However, a host of complications, including health and safety procedures, a cash-flow crisis, and the threat of a player strike have long since derailed that declaration, with English football’s top-tier having returned to pitches in mid-June.

As Premiership Rugby continues to look for a way back to the field, Childs has turned to external consultants for assistance. As reported by The Guardian, it is understood that PwC has been handed a broad remit with its client, including a particular focus on legal issues, risk management and procuring Covid19 tests. PwC will later assess whether letting fans into stadiums is viable, depending on when the UK Government allows for that, but the expectation is that the season will likely be completed behind closed doors.Premiership Rugby calls in PwC to guide restart plansResponding to claims this exposed the PRL’s limitations, a Premiership Rugby spokesperson said, “It’s vital we work with the very best advisers to restart rugby in a way that protects the health and welfare of our players, staff and fans, and we’re delighted to have PwC supporting us on this project. PwC brings vast experience in supporting organisations as they navigate complex and fast-moving situations, so are perfectly placed to help us ensure we return to play in a way that mitigates risk and gives a level of comfort to all of our players and clubs.”

PRL’s restart is provisionally pencilled in for mid-August, but details of a fixture list and whether matches will be played at neutral venues have not been forthcoming. PRL is also yet to announce its testing procedure, while clubs are still awaiting approval to return to full contact training – a situation complicated by the fact that players will not be eligible for the Government’s furlough scheme when they do. With the sport facing something of a cash crisis, the delay in its restart could prove even more costly as a result.

Meanwhile, PwC’s work will not be inexpensive – something which may not sit well with PRL club owners currently looking to enforce pay-cuts sanctioned by the PRL. Due to falls in revenue resulting from the pandemic – and its CEO’s failure to secure a new broadcast rights deal with the old one with BT Sports expiring in 2021 – the PRL recently agreed to reduce its salary cap to a total of £1.4 million, leaving clubs to push players to accept permanently wage cuts of up to 25%, and placing them at loggerheads with the players’ union.

The Rugby Players Association (RPA) remains opposed to the salary cut, and has threatened legal action to block it – something which recently saw 13 PRL clubs release a statement independent of the PRL claiming “the RPA have served to sow division and create uncertainty.” However, owners may now wonder why consultants are being employed at substantial cost, given the financial crisis in which sees the League pushing them to enforce wage cuts.

At the same time, the appointment of PwC to the role is unlikely to please the Rugby Players Association’, as PwC is the firm which the PRL contracts to audit the league’s salary cap. With the players’ union currently engaged in a standoff over the reduction of that cap, the placement of salary auditor PwC in a position to plan for the PRL’s restart will likely be regarded with deep suspicion.