Yesterday evening Cardiff Blues CEO Richard Holland held an open meeting for season ticket holders of both the Cardiff Blues and RFC, as well as members of the CF10 Trust, Cardiff Blues Supporter’s Club and Cardiff RFC Supporter’s club, to ask any questions of him they had in these uncertain times.
Firstly, I would like to thank Richard for standing up in front of the supporters and being open and honest. He could have gone on Scrum V or done a WalesOnline interview, but he chose to speak directly to us and that communication from the club is much appreciated.
What I will do is summarise the main points from the meeting which lasted an hour and covered a lot of topics, before giving some thoughts and reactions to the comments made by Holland underneath.
I will be happy to answer any further questions in the comments, on Twitter, via direct message or over e-mail, so feel free to get in touch.
There will be no WRU takeover
This was the main headline of the meeting in my view, with Peter Thomas making a statement through Richard Holland that he has no intention of allowing the WRU to own the Cardiff Blues in the same way they do the Dragons.
Cardiff Blues fully intends to continue to standalone, despite the WRU quite clearly being keen to take over a debt free capital city side.
They have listened to the vast majority of the supporters who are vehemently against any union ownership, and are keen to protect the name, ground and rugby of the Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC.
I see this as really excellent news, and there was clear relief in the room that the WRU option was squarely off the table. There was also a determination coming across on Holland’s part to make a success of the business independently.
Peter Thomas wants no money back
Some real clarification was provided through Holland of Peter Thomas’ current status as chairman of Cardiff Blues Limited, and what his intentions are over the next few years.
Peter is as passionate about Cardiff Rugby now as he ever has been, and it would seem to me that he sees the stadium redevelopment as a legacy project.
The big news is that Thomas has no desire to take any money from the redevelopment, and will turn all debts into equity, to allow Cardiff Blues and RFC to thrive with no loans owed to him and the income from the new ground and surrounding areas going squarely onto the rugby pitch.
It was great to hear Holland talk about not just wanting the Blues to be successful, but also the RFC. Having two trophy winning teams playing on the historic Arms Park.
Also of note was that Peter Thomas had put a further £1.75m into the club in the most recent financial year, while Martin Ryan had paid around £425k.
Certainly one for the benefactor detractors to think about, I for one am very pleased with that statement from Thomas.
The lease is getting there, again
The story of the lease was one of ongoing frustration.
Negotiations had reached an agreement and were very close to being signed off between Cardiff Blues and Cardiff Athletic Club, but the deal was rejected close to the last minute by the CAC management committee.
Holland could not give an answer about why that was, although there is a certain link to the first headline and what might have been in an alternate reality.
However, there was now a new proposal, drawn up in a joint venture between CBs and the CAC rugby committee, which will go to the management committee on Monday with the hope that the other sections of CAC can be convinced it is worth agreeing to.
It is felt by everyone that this has gone on too long and it’s time to get on with things though, so hopefully we will see some progress on this front by Christmas. I can’t help but feel that once this is sorted, a lot of the other aspects currently under question will fall into place.
The budget is changing
Danny Wilson’s departure was touched upon, but with no new information than we already knew in terms of him wanting a specific budget, but that couldn’t be reached.
The numbers were interesting, with the current wage bill including the two National Dual Contract players being around £5.4m, while next season this would drop to £4.8m, although that is without the NDCs of Anscombe and Warburton. In real terms it’s only a drop in budget of £100k.
However, Holland was confident that between £500k and £1m would come in from the new TV deal, that the Pro14 title sponsorship money would increase with the current Guinness deal being up, and a new Cardiff Blues sponsor was close to agreeing a multi-million pound deal with a decent percentage paid up front.
He did stress though that the days of going out to pay big bucks for overseas stars were over, despite any extra money coming in.
Interestingly, if the deal to add the two South African teams had been done earlier, Franco van der Merwe may well have been retained, with the money brought in by them enough to bridge the gap that having fewer players in Wales’ Six Nations squad created.
Of course it will be a disappointment to learn big name signings are on the back burner for the moment, but I, for one, am very excited by the young players coming through, so getting them signed up ahead of overseas players isn’t an all too bad thing.
NDCs are unfair
Richard Holland revealed that, in terms of how much the company paid towards the playing squad, Cardiff Blues actually spends more than Ospreys and Scarlets. This is due to the higher number of NDCs that the two Western sides possess.
In terms of redressing this balance, it was suggested that maybe players should be told ‘you have an NDC offer from Cardiff Blues or there is no NDC on the table’, to avoid the impending situation where, particularly Scarlets, are so successful that returning Wales players only want to play there.
Of course many will just say that Cardiff Blues should produce their own players to earn NDCs, but from a list sent by Holland to the WRU containing names of players to be considered for the 60/40 deal, only one name was returned as a possibility.
With ‘Gatland’s Law’ now being revamped, one wonders whether the NDC model also needs looking at. The answer is an almost certain yes.
A new coach is coming
Holland explained that there had been 25 applicants to replace Danny Wilson, although did not confirm what the new man’s job title would be. The applicants were drawn from international coaches, all the way down to inexperienced candidates.
Richard, Kevin Bowring and Geraint John had met that morning to discuss the candidates, as well as identify other targets they would like to speak to.
Unfortunately one candidate, who stated they ‘would only return to Wales to be Cardiff Blues head coach’, said he would not consider the role due to the inevitable Welsh media frenzy that would follow.
As if to prove the point, BBC Wales had a camera outside the clubhouse all evening.
Holland stated they were looking at 4-6 weeks for the next step of the process to be complete, and that what happened from there in terms of when the new man might start depended on the availability of the coach.
He did say though, that it was his wish for Danny Wilson to stay until the end of the season, but would wait and see who was appointed first.
In terms of stability I think it would be preferable to see Danny stay, and maybe let the new man get to grips with off field matters and look at player retention and recruitment before taking the reigns next summer.
Retaining the youngsters a priority
It was revealed that Rhun Williams, Josh Turnbull and an unnamed academy prop were all set to sign for next season, while seven or eight other players were close to getting done.
Within that number is Seb Davies who Holland is ‘encouraged’ will sign for next season after being made a very competitive offer and having spoken to his agent earlier in the day.
Welsh players under the age of 27 were currently being prioritised, while the new man in charge would have the final say on the expensive foreign players out of contract.
Once the lease is done we’re ready to go
Holland was keen to stress that hopes of a new indoor arena for the Arms Park were far from certain, but that separating the Arms Park from the Millennium, building new hospitality boxes and opening commercial properties on the riverfront would be equally successful in terms of raising revenue.
Architects and the council had been contacted and are waiting in the wings for a lease, as is a ‘significant investment’, ready to come on board.
This is great news, and goes to re-affirm the belief that the future beyond the redevelopment is very bright. Hopefully that can be pitched to the young players and any perspective coach.
Governance issues being addressed
It was acknowledged that the board wasn’t inclusive enough, with only the CAC representatives, people who were nominated by Peter Thomas, or who had paid £500k to sit there.
A sub-board had been set up with a former player, supporter group representatives with excellent skill sets and to be confirmed other members, that would assist in shaping the day-to-day running of the club and report back to the board through Richard Holland.
There were also early plans in place to appoint two non-executive directors to the board, although that is still very much in the drawing board phase.
Generally I thought Holland spoke very well. He is clearly passionate about wanting Cardiff Rugby to succeed going forward, and clearly believes we can get there through the lease agreement and stadium redevelopment.
Peter Thomas re-affirming his commitment to leave us debt free is excellent news and once again the club is indebted to him for continuing to back the professional side that has been the most successful out of the four Welsh teams in Europe.
His property development experience will be vital over the next few months and years, and I hope the ground ends up a fitting legacy. Certainly nobody should be calling for him to depart at this point.
Overall I’m left with a cautiously positive feeling, despite being well aware this is Cardiff Rugby and nothing is ever done simply. Still, everyone seems to be pulling in one direction, and the acknowledgement of what the brand can still offer was pleasing to hear.
Hopefully Holland follows through on his comment of making these supporter meetings more regular, as I certainly felt valued as I left the Arms Park, and with my commitment to keeping the faith re-affirmed. Come on Cardiff!!