A generation ago there was a genre of music called “Hooked on Classics” where some of the most popular works ever composed were given the 1980’s treatment. For the best part of a decade, copies on vinyl, cassette (remember them) and the newly invented cd flew off the shelves.
At the time, leagues and professionalism in rugby union was still over the horizon. Little attention would have been paid by the majority of fans to a team’s affairs. Not any more. With attendances during the last regular Premiership season over 1.6 million and with social media opening more doors in terms of information, you could argue supporters have never known as much about their club as they do now. For some, you could say they are “hooked” on every morsel.
So it was that a presentation by Gloucester CEO Stephen Vaughan dropped into my in-box, where he shared with a group of Gloucestershire businesses that the rugby club had completed their most successful financial year in the professional era.
Given that profits for the past two seasons had been in excess of £300,000 before tax, and that the team had had a poor year on the field, this is no mean feat. Attendances held steady, with an average crowd of just over 14,000, as did merchandising and other match day revenue such as beer sales.
What Vaughan pinpointed was that the extra profit – the results are due to be made public in the autumn -had come from “partnerships” with other businesses.
This money is important because from the start of next season the squad salary cap in the Premiership goes up. The pot for the main squad, plus an allocation for Academy players, will be £5 million pounds, with an additional allowance for long term injury cover. The concept of paying one marquee player outside this framework still remains.
If Gloucester can cover a large slice of this additional spend out of profit, they may well have a head start on those around them, even allowing for the benefactors supporting a clutch of other leading clubs.
Even accounting for this releasing of the purse strings to try and combat the steady stream of players taking the Euro to play in France, I have been asked several times how Gloucester can add a player of the quality of James Hook to the squad at this relatively late stage, when recruiting has been openly going on since January 1st. It’s a fair question.
Hook’s widely quoted salary at Perpignan would be that of a marquee player over here, and my understanding is that John Afoa already has that tag at Kingsholm next season. It’s not until you analyse the squad and how the money may have been spent previously that you see how it might be done.
From the squad on the payroll at July 1 last year, it’s possible 19 players may not be at Gloucester
12 months on. The only doubt appears to be over Mike Tindall, but of the rest three left during the season, four have retired, and seven more have found other clubs. The remaining four (Cowan, Harden, Lokotui and Martyn Thomas) are now free agents.
Clearly the salaries of that group will vary, but the balance is towards the more experienced end of the market, with money to match.
Contrast that with the players coming in. So far, including Hook, only eleven signings have been confirmed, including Afoa who is paid outside the salary cap. True, Hibbard will command a serious salary, and Galarza, Hook and Palmer will not be cheap either, but three players – Atkinson, McColl and Rowan – are recruits from the Championship.
Assuming Aled Thomas and Issacs, coming from the Pro 12, are on what might termed be average deals for the Premiership – I’ll leave you to ponder what they might be – that’s a significantly smaller squad, even allowing for something to be set aside for a third scrum half and a third hooker, both positions where specialists are needed.
Fundamentally though, the maths looks as if it works. A leaner playing staff and a larger salary budget should allow for the arrival of the Perpignan playmaker, even if the man who set the deal up isn’t at Gloucester to greet him.
Without Nigel Davies, the man who spearheaded the final push to get the versatile Welshman to Kingsholm was Stephen Vaughan, a man hooked on making money for Gloucester rugby. On that basis he couldn’t have secured a player more aptly named.
Photograph : Copyright http://www.liveatkingsholm.co.uk