Northampton Saints CEO Mark Darbon is said to be willing to open his club’s accounts to English rugby bosses to avoid further financial disaster in the Gallagher Premiership.
Darbon has also insisted that the amount each team can spend on player wages – known as the salary cap – should be directly linked to the commercial revenue they generate.
His comments come amid a crisis in England’s top flight after Worcester and Wasps both fell under government and were banned from the competition.
Northampton Saints CEO Mark Darbon wants to prevent further financial disasters
Bosses from the RFU and Premiership Rugby have been summoned to appear before the DCMS committee next month to discuss the sport’s predicament.
Both sides have admitted that a radical change is needed to ensure that more clubs do not follow the disastrous path Worcester and Wasps have taken.
One of the proposals was to have the finances of all Premiership clubs more openly controlled by rugby’s governing bodies. Sportsmail revealed that the Premiership will appoint an NFL-style commissioner to lead the club game.
“What we are absolutely in favor of is that our league has more visibility into the finances of its clubs,” Darbon told Sportsmail.
“If we’re trying to make good financial decisions across the Premiership, it’s hard to do if you don’t have all the information in front of you.
“I don’t think it’s the job of the RFU or the league to save individual clubs. What we’re trying to do is build a sustainable model that works for everyone. That calls for collaboration.
Darbon says Premiership needs ‘more visibility into its clubs’ finances’
Wasps entered the administration on Monday after announcing last week that it was imminent
“Our sport is very traditional commercially and we must now act differently and evolve for the better if we want to make it as successful as possible.
“I was especially surprised when I got into the sport at how insular it felt.”
Northampton is the highly regarded Darbon’s first job in rugby after joining Saints in 2017.
“It is important to note that this is not necessarily something new,” he said of the Premiership’s financial difficulties.
‘The total loss of all Premiership clubs was £45 million in the year leading up to the pandemic. Obviously our model hasn’t fully fired up for a while.
“It brings to the fore the discussion that we need to evolve for the future.”
Premiership lowered salary cap to £5m per team in response to Covid-19 impact
The Premiership lowered its salary cap to £5million per team in response to the impact Covid-19 was having on English rugby.
The number of marquee players – those whose salaries are outside the limit – was also reduced from two to one. Darbon believes that the structure of the cap should change.
“We were in favor of lowering the cap as we all struggled with the specter of Covid,” he added. ‘When you are in a financial crisis, you have to measure your costs.
‘Reducing the cap was a pragmatic step for our sport. Looking ahead, I think it makes sense to link the salary ceiling more explicitly to commercial income.
‘It’s about the sustainability of the league and its clubs. To have a sustainable model, you need to generate enough income to cover your costs. If the income base is growing strongly because you’re doing your commercial work well, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to spend more.
Losing games with Worcester and Wasps costs Northampton up to £700,000 in revenue
‘If you can’t get that income working, it’s a much more difficult argument to raise the salary ceiling. When you do that, you just keep the model we had in the past and in some cases increase the reliance of certain clubs on the pockets of certain owners.
‘I don’t know how sustainable that is in the long term.
“At Saints, our model has always been pretty clear. We don’t have the luxury of a single, wealthy person willing to dive into their deep pockets every year.
“That forces you to operate within the limits of your own resources.”
Under Darbon’s leadership, Northampton has emphasized the importance of financial stability and attracting England players from their academy system.
Worcester Warriors are in administration and will be removed from the Gallagher Premiership
Losing scheduled home games to Worcester and Wasps this season will cost Northampton up to £700,000 in lost revenue. Darbon quickly sprang into action to arrange a match with the Barbarians to replace the Worcester draw. Bath and Harlequins have since followed in Northampton’s footsteps.
Darbon added: ‘Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, isn’t it? Every home game we host at Saints generates between £350,000 and £450,000 in winnings. Losing one or two of those matches is quite a blow, especially against the backdrop of a challenging financial situation. We wanted to protect the downside of that financial risk, but also give something back to our supporters.’
How to grow the Premiership’s revenues and ensure greater sustainability is the big question facing English rugby after the disastrous failings of both Worcester and Wasps.
Sports like Formula 1 have grown exponentially thanks to behind-the-scenes documentaries and Darbon wants Northampton to become the first rugby club to do the same.
Darbon says rugby could take inspiration from documentaries like F1’s Drive to Survive
Saints have already produced in-house movies about their run-up to last season’s playoffs and a special part of their rigorous pre-season fitness testing known as the “Blakiston Challenge.”
“The reason we do a lot of behind-the-scenes content is because we see it in other sports that have used it to increase their audience,” Darbon added.
“You only have to look at the success of propositions like Drive to Survive and the Wrexham FC documentary to realize what they can do. It’s about attracting and retaining a new audience.
“We’re definitely open to doing one. Frankly, we want to put ourselves in the shop window.’