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Home » Pontypridd RFC Label WRU’s New League As Anything But Elite With No Commercial Rationale

Pontypridd RFC Label WRU’s New League As Anything But Elite With No Commercial Rationale

Pontypridd RFC has reaffirmed its opposition to the Welsh Rugby Union’s new Elite Domestic Competition (EDC), describing it as anything but “elite” with historic clubs participating losing control under a centralised quasi franchise model.

In an overhaul of the semi-professional game from next season a new 10 league EDC will be launched.

After inviting applications, ten teams from the Premiership applied to join under initial three-year licences with the union. Pontypridd, Cardiff RFC and Merthyr, were united in their opposition saying the reduced number of home games in the EDC, compared to the current Premiership with 14 clubs, would curtail income generation, while questioning the business rationale for a winter break with a proposed cup competition during the Six Nations.

Chairman of Merthyr, Sir Stan Thomas, has described the EDC structure as “commercial suicide.” Cardiff RFC’s initial opposition was supported by regional side Cardiff Rugby.

However, with new owners at Cardiff Rugby, and the rejection of Neath RFC’s EDC application, Cardiff RFC has performed a U-turn and submitted an application. The union will now have to decide whether Cardiff RFC makes up the tenth team in the EDC for its inaugural 2024-25 season or Neath, which has submitted a fresh application. A decision is expected in April.

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Executive board member of the Sardis Road club, Mark Rhydderch-Roberts, whose career in investment banking saw him holding senior executive roles with the likes of Swiss Re, USB Warburg, Schroders and Societe Generale said: “Having made the decision not to apply for membership of the proposed EDC league, Pontypridd RFC, its members and stakeholders remain united in the desire to participate in a league where flourishing independent clubs retain control of their selection policy, their employment policy with regard to coaching and support staff, and where commercial realities remain central.

“I remain bemused as to the WRU’s strategic rationale with regard to the EDC. This is mirrored by the naivete of the clubs who have applied to join it in the deluded belief that they will be participating at an ‘elite’ level. “There is no empirical evidence worldwide to show that development leagues succeed in spectator engagement, commercial success or player development – in fact the opposite is true. No one wants to watch or participate in meaningless games in a meaningless league in front of empty stands.”

Mark Rhydderch-Roberts. (Image: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agen) Mr Rhydderch-Roberts said the plans for the league, when outlined by the union, proposed just seven home league games. However, it is now understood that the union is looking to increase that to potentially nine, as well as exploring an Anglo-Welsh competition for the EDC’s winter break for its second season in 2025-26.

The union were asked to confirm the number of planned home games in the EDC league, what investment it would provide participating clubs, the expected match funding, and any sanctions imposed for clubs breaching the terms of their EDC licences.

While the union didn’t respond, it is understood that each EDC club will receive around £105,000 per season, which they have to match. Squad costs will be capped at £150,000 with players also provided from the academies in the four regions.

Mr Rhydderch-Roberts, said: “It was presented to us as just seven home games in the league and then a meaningless cup competition during a four month winter break from the league. The idea of any future meaningful Anglo-Welsh competition in future seasons is remote as the English Championship clubs are dealing with their own major issues, not least financial.

If there is any competition it would comprise of second team and academy players representing the English clubs, which would generate little if any spectator appeal.

“The EDC is not in any way a sustainable business model and for many clubs, will guarantee insolvency. Putting the operational issues to one side, much of which has yet to be detailed and confirmed by the WRU, what is really happening is that the governing body is attempting to move from an independent club system to a centrally controlled quasi franchise model purely designed to support the failed regions and the national side.

“Quite why any sentient individual believes that handing over effective operational control of a club to a region will result in better outcomes for player development and commercial success is a mystery. I wish our former colleagues in the Welsh Premiership well and I hope they have deep pockets. Welsh regional rugby has arguably failed on every level to engage a spectator demographic, maintain commercial viability, and achieve any sustained success on the field.”

Mr Rhydderch-Roberts said any EDC club failing to provide the required match funding, which he said would have to be provided and guaranteed for the full three year term, faced a sanction of being relegated down five leagues.

On the U-turn by Cardiff RFC, he added: “It is disappointing that Cardiff RFC have now apparently attempted to apply for the tenth and last spot in the EDC. Along with Cardiff Rugby, led by its chief executive Richard Holland, they had stood firm with us and Merthyr in their decision to not apply for the EDC and fully supported the commercial and strategic rationale for that collective decision. One can only assume that the new owners of Cardiff Rugby have been encouraged by the WRU to reverse that decision. Unfortunately for the WRU and Cardiff, the only way this would appear to work is if A legitimate application from Neath RFC is now rejected.”

From next season Pontypridd will compete in a new look Premiership league, alongside Merthyr and teams from the current Championship (next league down).

Chair of Pontypridd, Phil Miles, said that the club’s opposition to applying for the EDC was taken after sounding out the position of members at its annual general meeting last year, although no formal vote was taken.

He added: “Our position was explained to members and there was no sense of significant opposition in the room following that process.”

Mr Rhydderch-Roberts added:“I am by nature an optimist, but it is difficult to see where Welsh rugby at all levels goes from here. We have all seen cyclical downturns in the past, but this time around it feels structural, with participation and attendance levels dropping precipitously.

“There is a very real danger that Wales will become a permanently second tier rugby nation, the South Sea islanders of Europe. However, we refuse to subscribe to the WRU “managed decline” philosophy. I believe we can escape the doom loop and revitalise the game in Wales. Pontypridd will do this one game at a time, with Merthyr RFC and all our fellow Premiership clubs next season. This will be real rugby in a real league and this prospect is exciting.

“Despite diminishing financial and commercial support from the WRU, the Welsh Premiership and the clubs have endured, the competitive and tribal loyalties are as intense as ever, and we are confident that next season will confirm that. Pontypridd has been a proud independent community club for over 150 years and we will all continue to work tirelessly to ensure a successful future, on and off the field.”

Ebbw Vale view

Chairman of Ebbw Vale RFC, Jonathan Jones, one of nine current Premiership teams that have been accepted into the new EDC, said: “We are well aware of Pontypridd’s views, but they don’t reflect those of the majority of clubs. The current Premiership with 14 teams dilutes the quality of squads, creates salary inflation and becomes a war of attrition.

“With 13 home games there is the cost of staff and ensuring volunteer support and then the expense of corresponding away fixtures. And you don’t necessarily generate that much from bar takings from home games after costs. So, I don’t accept that more rugby and home games equates more money. We have to make this work (EDC) in partnership with the WRU and we need more positivity around and not negativity.”

Mr Jones said for clubs to survive in Wales they need to look more, where possible, at other income streams.”

On land around its ground, currently held by a charitable trust, the club is looking to build a new 4G training pitch and an indoor sports facility. There are also plans to rebuild the existing 1950s clubhouse, for a new multi-purpose facility, that would also provide for banqueting facilities for weddings, staging live music events, as well as offering office space.

Mr Jones, who also chairs the body representing the Premiership clubs, added: “We are looking to put electric charging points in our car park which could generate up to £15,000 in new income.”

He said plans for a new multi-purpose club, sporting pitches and facilities would run into millions. The chairman added: “We will need to seek grant funding and potentially levelling-up backing from the UK Government.”

“However, the reality is many rugby clubs in Wales will not survive without creating other revenue streams.”