Cardiff Rugby, Long Term Planning

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Cardiff Blues v Dragons - Guinness Pro14
CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 06: A general view of Cardiff Arms Park, home of Cardiff Blues match ball during the Guinness Pro14 Round 6 match between Cardiff Blues and Dragons on October 6, 2017 at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Simon King - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Rugby has been played at the Arms Park since the late 1800’s, but could we be about to see the fall of Cardiff rugby at the iconic landmark?

Robert Rees takes a look at the issues surrounding rugby in Cardiff.

On-Field Woes Continue as Blues Play Catch-up

With the Cardiff Blues starting the season off in a rather unsavoury manner, the side picking up only ten points out of a possible thirty. A win over their East Wales rivals the Dragons has somewhat aided their chase-down on the top three playoff spot. Within conference A, they still lie six points shy of third. The on-field challenge will take every player to get it right.

Off-field matters haven’t gotten any better for the Blues, with pre-season signing Franco Van Der Merwe moving on before even playing any game time. This is amid financial concerns which have appeared very early in the season.

Peter Thomas; Cardiff Blues’ chairman, has warned of the lack of money left in Welsh rugby for some time now. And with him unwilling to keep dipping his hands in his pockets, it has seen Danny Wilson turn down a chance at an extra year extension on his contract. Reportedly due to him not agreeing with the clubs budget for next season.

WalesOnline reported this would be around £4.8m on players, plus some on the side for coaches if required.

Off-Field Matters Limiting Future

The lack of funding is an issue surrounding all of the professional rugby teams in Wales. Cardiff are not alone in that sense, but if the board isn’t willing to spend that much more on Cardiff then it could well be possible that the Blues would take the same route as the Dragons–to end up under WRU ownership.

Much remains to be sorted for the future of Cardiff as a professional entity. The Blues must also find a new head coach [on a limited budget]. And that coach must get a limited squad back to winning ways. But all this is played out with the very ground the side plays on, under question.

The Cardiff Arms Park (CAP) lease still hasn’t been agreed upon, between the board and the key stakeholder; the Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC).

The lease renewal delay comes under regional scrutiny if the WRU possibly were to take over the Blues. A likely option further down the line, given their financial strains. The national union would likely remove the Cardiff name–as they did with Newport, in the Dragons region.

Blues Name Less Powerful Than Cardiff Heritage

The major problem there being that the CAC are apparently unlikely to renew their lease at CAP for a team without Cardiff in the name. Some non-regional fans who call for the cull of the ‘Super Club’ names may call this selfish. But they are a different topic to anything rugby-venue related, and CAC may do as they wish with their property.

Others argue that if the lease to a team called, lets say the ‘Blues’ or similar, brought in money for them then it would make sense to accept the deal. But, valuing heritage as much as the pound, is that enough to remove such a parochial rugby name?

There is also the matter of the Cardiff brand and what it brings? Between sponsorship’s and Peter Thomas, it reportedly brings in around £1.25m. This is the challenge for CAC, in deciding upon how much value losing the Cardiff branding will provide, and if this is the motive behind making the team less ‘Regional’.

Lease Loss Would Affect Cardiff RFC (CRFC)

If the venue lease was not renewed, then fans might likely see the Cardiff Blues Pro14 outfit fold as they are known. Forced to move elsewhere, and it would have a follow-on affect to another local sporting club.

This would leave the semi-professional Cardiff RFC in a 12,000 capacity stadium, all on their own. A side who have a weekly average home crowd of 500 or less, playing in such a large stadium doesn’t make sense if they are the sole occupants.

It certainly wouldn’t help the atmosphere for longstanding CRFC fans.

All this could change as the Arms Park received recent news that it has been shortlisted for being a possible site of redevelopment. This would result in more non-match-day income. Making it financially viable if CAC had to sustain one playing side with low income stream from spectators.

However, if CRFC were forced to move, they could look at other local sites such as Leckwith. But crucially, that shift might see them relinquish their Principality Premiership status, on the grounds of losing their A license criteria.

CRFC Could Look at New Specialised Ground

It has been talked that the WRU could look to buy the Arms Park. Realistically this isn’t going to happen, as CAC won’t sell to Cardiff Blues… let alone the WRU. Plus, it is understood that the site has to have sporting use.

Since the ‘shake up’ of the Blues taking over the running of CRFC, all decisions are linked. So a long term future option for CRFC is to move to a different ground, but tailor it with some funding from Thomas, or other majority shareholders, to become a Premiership standard ground.

However, this would be hugely costly exercise. With city-central land for development at an all time high price – plus the extra costs of developing a new specialised ground up to Premiership standard – this could cost up to or around £10m. However, in reality that funding isn’t really available; given the Cardiff Blues financial struggles.

It must be said that where CRFC are based, does come down to the situation of the Blues. Or upon their disappearance as we know them, how much investment the remaining backers would put in to make them a stand alone semi-professional entity is up in the air.

Again, with the decision on their home ground lease looming, the Blues must also find a new head coach [on a limited budget]. And that coach must get a limited squad back to winning ways.

Cardiff Blues Have the Squad to Build From

The Blues do have the making of a quality squad that could go somewhere–given some extra investment and some boardroom stability. Danny Wilson has young talented players, such as Seb Davies, Dillon Lewis and Tomas Williams. They are all looking good, especially after the local derby victory, and players with promising future’s ahead of them in Blue.

If the Cardiff Blues can get some long term security [with a lease deal agreed] more investment either privately, or through the TV deal that renews in 2018, then it could be the perfect base to build from.

Cardiff rugby is very much up in the air at the moment. But it is not a lost cause quite yet. Results aside, the history and fanbase is there. With the framework ready to build upon, it just lacks that crucial ingredient we all want more of…..Money.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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