Bill Sweeney backs plans to reduce the Premiership to 10 teams

RFU chief Bill Sweeney backs plans to reduce the Premiership to 10 teams from 2024-25 season as a solution to current financial crisis following collapses at Wasps and Worcester 

  • Bill Sweeney has backed plans to make the Premiership a 10-team league
  • He has predicted new format wouldn’t come into force until the 2024-25 season 
  • Sweeney says the current setup does not benefit every team in the league
  • Wasps and Worcester were suspended last week after financial struggles   

Bill Sweeney has thrown the Rugby Football Union’s support behind a 10-team Premiership to help solve the sport’s financial crisis.

RFU chief executive Sweeney has insisted the governing body is still committed to the long-mooted global calendar, signalling the ‘major priority’ of resolving fixture clashes between club and country.

Sweeney has predicted any changes on a slimmed-down English top flight would not come into force until the 2024-25 season.

Bill Sweeney has thrown the Rugby Football Union’s support behind a 10-team Premiership

The RFU and Premiership Rugby are already in talks over the Professional Game Agreement (PGA), even though the existing terms do not expire until June 2024.

Sweeney admitted the RFU has precious few short-term fixes for either stricken clubs Worcester or Wasps – but insisted the financial crisis must spark a major overhaul of the English game.

Asked if a reduced, 10-team Premiership could be an answer, Sweeney said: ‘I do see it as viable for a number of reasons, and we’ve been saying for quite some time now that less is more.

‘I don’t know if 10 is the absolute number but that’s the one being used now, but in that and the central distribution around broadcast and commercial revenues, clearly there’s a financial benefit for less teams in that league.

‘Clearly one of the major issues we’ve got to grapple with is the calendar.

‘And one of the things that’s held us back in England is the overlap between the international game and the club game.

‘So a reduction in the size of PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited) will help us with that.

Worcester Warriors players and staff had their contracts dissolved last week 

‘There is no plan to expand international matches, the conversations around the global season will not increase the number of international Tests played.

‘But reducing that overlap between club and country, again, we believe is a fundamental part of improving the narrative and product around the club game, which hopefully will then stimulate growth across match day revenue, broadcast value, and so on.

‘I don’t think there are any short-term measures we can take, and we are seeing the effects of a system that’s been broken for quite some time.

‘And we don’t have financial transparency on those other clubs.

‘The sort of time-frame we’re looking at to effect this is 2024-25, which is after the current PGA.

‘But we’re looking to set the foundation, set the course to really sort out the English game for the long-term.

Wasps are set to be relegated from the Premiership amid their financial woes 

‘We’ve been in conversation now for around six months on PGA, we started that early even though that agreement doesn’t expire until June 2024. We’re having daily meetings, discussions around that.

‘Solving the club and Test match clashes is a major priority; the degree of overlap at the moment doesn’t help anybody.

‘Fans want to see their marquee players playing for their clubs, and England fans want to see England players able to perform at their very best.

‘Therefore deconflicting that international calendar is a key consideration for us.

‘Match and minute limits will only come under more pressure. So taking this approach will help us achieve those two things.’

Sweeney believes improved governance and more robust regulation – including forcing financial transparency from clubs – can set rugby back on track.

‘Now is the time to be brave, be bold, but it’s a time also for cool heads,’ said Sweeney.

‘Players need to have a strong voice in this and full consultation too.

‘I personally believe we will come through this stronger and in better shape and we will get through it. I don’t see it as the demise of our game over the longer-term.

Sweeney says the current Premiership setup does not benefit every team in the league

‘There’s been real frustration and anger, and that’s totally understandable.

‘But the words will mean very little to the players and people affected at clubs if we don’t actually use this situation to make the necessary changes to protect the game going forward.

‘Under the French model of greater financial transparency, we would have known about a situation like Worcester or Wasps before the season starts.

‘And then it’s up to us to say ‘look we think you’re in a precarious position and we’re here to protect you’.

‘In France they will force a reduced salary cap on one club alone.

‘So we need greater governance and regulatory control allow you to make changes.’

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