The new Championship season kicks-off in three days’ time with one of the biggest names in the competition admitting that a promotion push this year is financially beyond them.
Yorkshire Carnegie are adopting the long-term view in their bid to reclaim their place in the Premiership, six years after they were relegated from the top flight.
The club have launched a search for fresh investment – they seek no less than £8m over the next three years – to help them achieve their ambition, either via the first-past-the-post promotion system, or by a ring-fencing of the top flight that they crave.
Carnegie are one of 14 clubs across England that have an infrastructure fit for the Premiership, they also have a county-wide academy co-funded by the Rugby Football Union and retain a share in Premier Rugby; although that expires at the end of this year.
The rest of the clubs in the Championship are either unwilling or unable to meet the financial and set-up demands of the top flight.
That Bristol, the other team capable of competing at the top table, come down from the Premiership with parachute payments and a playing budget three times the size of Carnegie’s, means hopes for the Headingley club to compete for first place this season are slim.
That Bristol, the other team capable of competing at the top table, come down from the Premiership with parachute payments and a playing budget three times the size of Carnegie’s, means hopes for the Headingley club to compete for first place this season are slim.Nick Westby
To that end, Carnegie will not be putting all their eggs into one basket, instead spreading them out across a three-year plan.
The irony will not be lost on critics who will point to the fact that this new three-year plan comes almost three years since their last relaunch, when some £2.8m in investment by nine shareholders over that timeframe took Carnegie no further than a play-off final with London Irish in May, the side relegated the season before who were odds-on to win promotion.
Now though they want that team of nine investors to be doubled in number and for the money to also increase at the same rate as rugby inflation, meaning no less than £8m is sought over a three-year period.
Their playing budget this year is £1.4m, down more than £600,000 on last year and while comparable with the majority of the division, it is dwarfed by the £4.5m Bristol have to play with.
They have lost the £1m a year they got from a 10-year partnership with Leeds Beckett University – though a new partnership is being negotiated with the university on lower income – and central funding has also been reduced.
It all adds up to a much smaller playing squad and a more streamlined coaching staff under returning head coach Jimmy Lowes. In an ideal world, Carnegie believe they should be Yorkshire’s representatives in a ring-fenced 14-team Premiership and plan to keep their house in order for if, and when, that day comes, which at present would be no earlier than 2021. Until then, attracting new investment and making a stronger fist of winning promotion either next season or the year after is their best hope.
“Winning the competition is likely to be there before an expansion of the league,” admitted chairman David Dockray.
“I think any expansion is probably three years out, which is why we’ve got a three-year plan.
“Jimmy’s target this year is not based on a particular outcome, but on a style of play and the attitude that is shown. This season can be used as a means of getting ready for the season after.
“But we’ll still be competitive.”