Rise In Player Wages Comes With A Price

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 25: Ian Ritchie, Chief Executive of Rugby Football Union (R) and Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby (L) answer questions during a media event to announce the new Professional Game Agreement between the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby at Twickenham Stadium on July 25, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images). (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

The rise in rugby union player wages over the last five years has been well deserved for the athletes that put so much on the line. However, this rise in market value has come at a price, a price that is beginning to show.

For the first time since the turn of professionalism, the threat of a strike due to a rise in rugby union player wages has become a concerning possibility. As with most things in this world, it all comes down to money.

The rise in player wages over the last five years has been well deserved. Especially when you think about how short their careers are and the way their body’s are put on the line. The number of players forced into early retirement through injury is piling up. With the knowledge your career could be forced to an end on any given weekend, players are quite rightly seeing pay packets rise to ensure they can give their all, knowing financially they are stable. The downside to this is the increased financial demands placed on the clubs. These sides must maintain a competitive squad that also has depth to cover injuries and international call ups. When we add the increased number of players forced to stand down due to head injuries, we are seeing more short term contracts as injury cover throughout the season.

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While it is paramount we ensure our players are well looked after both physically and financially, ensuring clubs remain competitive around these efforts comes at a price. While the wages are swelling, it is impossible for the clubs income to follow the same trend. We are not seeing the same swell in bums on seats as cheques in hands. Billy Vunipola’s recent suggestion of an 11 game season from 22 is simply a demand the league could not fulfil. Halve their product and you halve their income, resulting in half the wages. You see the dilemma for both sides of the issue.

Players And Coaches Poll Result

A recent poll of Premiership coaches and players by journalist Alex Shaw for RugbyPass resulted in 100% agreement that they WOULD NOT an extended season. This reaction comes after Premier Rugby Limited (PRL) suggested the extension of the season to June. This extension would cause less crossover of domestic and international fixtures but would reduce the off-season for players. Rugby Players Association (RPA) chairman Christian Day, among many others, have all opposed the idea of an extended season. This suggestion itself was the spark that ignited the threat of player lead strike.

Alex’s Shaw’s article can be found here:

This rock and a hard place situation the PRL finds itself in is no easy fix. The race between the Pro14 and Aviva Premiership to ‘crack America’ is well underway. Both leagues are desperate to reap the benefits of a lucrative American TV contract. The addition of two South African sides to the Pro14 is one example of increasing revenue. Will we see a similar addition to the Premiership? It is well known several South African sides have already held talks with PRL to set up a similar arrangement.

Something Has To Give

Either way, something has to give. Many Premiership sides are already running at a loss. Larger wages come at a price and it will be unlikely for us to see an 11 game season. We will almost certainly see some changes to the league in effort to appease both players and clubs demands. Whether that is an inclusion of overseas sides, lucrative TV deals or a reduced calendar, all shall become clear in the not too distant future.

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