Money Makes the World Go Round

Ask any random Scotland fan on the street to pick Mark Dodson out of a lineout and it seems likely they’ll fail. The man is not exactly a celebrity. Type his name into Google and he’ll eventually pop up fourth behind a not-very-famous video game actor, a sound engineer and a chef from Exeter. He has no Wikipedia page, no incendiary Twitter account and to our knowledge has never sneaked onto the pitch pretending to be a waterboy.

This is perhaps surprising given that he’s been the Chief Executive of Scottish Rugby Union Ltd for eleven years now. Perhaps not. What supporter would rather spend time worrying about financials than player performances?

For that matter, who would rather discuss “Scottish Rugby Union Ltd” than the Scotland Rugby team?

But such is the world we live in and if you don’t like it, something about communists.

Scottish rugby is as much a business as Amazon or Asda and businesses exist for one universal, irrefutable, incontrovertible purpose. The acquisition of monies. Fans are more prone to talk of fly-halves and defence coaches, but the conversation about Chief Financial Officers (Hilary Spence), Presidents (Ian Barr) and Chairmen (John Jeffrey) is there to be had as well.

In that respect, Dodson and the SRU Board have been a great success. According to Statistica, Scottish Rugby’s turnover increased by over 70% between 2011 and 2019.

And the Board have been well compensated for this success. The SRU’s highest paid Director, almost certainly Dodson, pulled in total emoluments of £933k in 2019, & £434k following coronavirus cuts in 2020 (for comparison, Finn Russell is reportedly the highest paid British player in the world and is paid £850k per annum before bonuses).

To put this in context, 2019 saw a World Cup humiliation as Scotland imploded in the group stages, a £70,000 fine from World Rugby for Dodson’s comments on the potential cancellation of the Japan game, losses to Wales, France, Japan, Ireland (twice), the Under 20s were relegated from the top tier of competition, Scotland Women bore witness to an 80-0 thrashing at the hands of England, and Glasgow and Edinburgh both exited Europe at the quarter finals.

And herein lies the ugly truth about the professionalisation of the game. If the SRU is a business, and businesses only exist to make money, then the rugby on the field is merely a product to be sold. “National pride” becomes an irrelevance. It doesn’t matter if Edinburgh and Glasgow win anything; it matters if they turn a profit.

The only incentive to grow the game is the promise of financial return and the SRU’s stated commitment to such seems at stark odds with the announcement made on Wednesday that they were gutting the Sevens program in Scotland in favour of yet more Team GB homogenisation. The direct result of this is that the nation that invented Rugby Sevens at Melrose over a hundred years ago will no longer be directly represented in the Sevens World Series.

This profit-first approach is also why it took so long for Scotland’s women to be given the opportunity to be full-time professional rugby players. Social justice be damned; it’s now, in a post #MeToo #TimesUp world that the SRU thinks they can make real money off women playing rugby, so it’s finally time to invest.

It’s why despite the myriad problems imposed upon the game by only having two professional teams, a third remains naught more than a pipe dream.

Where, more than one person asked, was Mark Dodson when Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell were sniping at each other in the press in 2020? Surely the right man to bring together head coach and playmaker was their boss, right?

No. That’s not his job. He doesn’t work for the fans who wanted the situation resolved; he works for the board who wanted quarterly growth.

It’s only fair to note that if you bother to read the latest of the SRU’s financial statements filed with Companies House, the opening line is a promising one: “The principal activity of the Group is to promote the game of Rugby throughout Scotland.”

It’s followed by two dense pages about how much money they’ve made in the past year.

Glasgow Warriors immediate follow-up to a fairly awful season was to advertise more expensive season tickets then fire their coach.

Edinburgh’s new ‘stadium’ was built to such a cheap degree that the globally available technology of free-standing rooves was eschewed for some seventy-odd pillars obscuring spectators view of the pitch. There are more architecturally impressive bus stops.

Copyright: LFaurePhotos

And this makes perfect sense, because as much as Glasgow fans will complain that the price is too high, the tickets will still sell and as much as Edinburgh fans complain about the view, they’ll put up with it to cheer on their team. That’s worth about two-and-a-half million pounds according to the SRU’s statements.

As much as Scotland fans complain about baffling selection policies, nonsensical on-field decision-making, lacklustre performances, disappointing tournament placements, pointless box kicks, woeful restarts, faltering lineouts and white line fever, there they are, year after year, packing out Murrayfield to the tune of some sixteen million pounds a year.

Scotland fans are in one sense, the immediate consumer of the SRU’s product. But in another very real one, they are an exploitable resource.

Facebook is free because the company can sell users inputted data. Your Auntie Betty is not the customer; she’s the product. Scottish rugby is not free, but in exactly the same way its fans are sold as a resource to external companies.

The SRU is paid by Sky because the SRU can deliver subscribers to Sky Sports to watch something even as dispiriting as an Argentina series lost in the last minute. They’re paid by Macron and BT because they can deliver hundreds of thousands of people who will spend £80 on an undersized navy blue T-shirt with a telecoms logo on the front.

And on and on it goes.

“So what?” one might reasonably ask. That’s the way it is and it’s certainly not unique to Scotland. Why bother about it at all?

Ask yourself this: is there anyone who really, truly, honestly, hand-on-heart, seriously believes this particular Scotland team is going anywhere beyond the group stages of the World Cup when they’re drawn with South Africa and Ireland as neighbours?

And if everyone can and has seen this coming for two years before the event, why hasn’t anything been done to address it?

Whether or not Gregor Townsend should still be head coach is not the issue here, but rather the fact that there is absolutely no question that whatever transpires between now and then, he will lead Scotland into the World Cup. Fans are resigned to this. It’s an inevitability.

In June it was announced that Mark Dodson had his contract as Chief Executive Officer extended until 2025. It seemed an odd time if you were led to believe it was based on the onfield performance of Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or the development of the game beyond.

But of course it wasn’t based on any of those things, just like the decision to stick with Townsend. It was based on how much money the company makes and is projected to make over the next few years.

Scotland are going out in the groups. Everyone knows it. But the calculation has been made; that is a good enough result for the money it will bring in relative to the expenditure it took to get there.

Put another way,

The SRU have accepted mediocrity as an acceptable outcome on the pitch because the SRU doesn’t care about the outcome on the pitch so long as the financials keep rising.

For sure the SRU would make much more money if Scotland were world champions, but they make plenty as it is, so a real incentive to actually develop and grow the game is lacking.

Scotland is not a poor nation. It is not a particularly small nation and its populace is not unusually destitute. Rugby may not be its favourite team sport but as the number two, there is more than enough cash to fund success on the field, if success on the field is actually the goal.

But as Scotland trudge along to what seems like an inevitable embarrassment at the World Cup after which senior players will retire, a new coach will surely be appointed, press releases will be made with lots of talk about “excitement” and “development”; meanwhile fans on the sidelines are simply getting older and wondering if cricket would really be so bad if they gave it a chance (I very much enjoy baseball – Ed.),

As this inexorable train of shite meaninglessly drags itself towards hopes of a three-win Six Nations in 2024 and we start the whole godforsaken charade again, Mark Dodson will still be the CEO of Scottish Rugby because Mark Dodson has done a good job.

He’s made The Company lots of money.

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Chris has been writing meandering nonsense covering media, sports, and politics for over fifteen years. When not waxing lyrical into the void he can most often be found switching the difficulty on videogames to "easy," burning things on the stove and complaining about the ever-rising price of a pint of Guinness.If you're minded to encourage him, you can do so at ko-fi.com/chrismurray
Follow Chris on twitter @chrismurraylaw

22 comments on “Money Makes the World Go Round

  1. Horace on

    “As this inexorable train of sh*te meaninglessly drags itself towards…”

    Thought you were going to end that part with “a conclusion” but I see you didn’t mean the article.

    Good rant. My main take away is that Dodson is doing a great job having taken the SRU from destitute and debt ridden to cash rich and able to invest much more money in the game.

    Reply
  2. Pegj on

    Hopefully the revised Governance structure means the priority of community rugby can raised a little.

    Sure, Dodson will still view us a set of figures on the expenses side of the accounts, with little hope of generating income like corporate rugby (though he’s trying hard with the like of Papa Johns and Super 6).

    But community rugby is where the heart & soul of the game is, and it will survive long after the pro rugby arms race has imploded (probably several times) and the constructs of Glasgow & Edinburgh are so detached from our communities, that they’ll probably end up playing their games in places like Stade des Arboras and Segra Field.

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  3. FF on

    Feel like this article is a bit self-indulgently cynical. Dodson is FAR from perfect and has possibly overstayed his welcome. But during his regime Scotland have become financially stable and competitive again at test level, not to mention having two pro-teams broadly competitive and Glasgow winning the only professional trophy we have to our name worth winning.

    No doubt, many other people are far more responsible for the improvement in the rugby side of things, but let’s be honest, it was utterly dreadful supporting Scotland or it’s pro-teams for the first dozen years of this millennium before Dodson. So I really think Scottish fans should be a bit more balanced in their criticism of the SRU.

    Totally agree the youth and community game need huge investment and support, but the only reason we have money in the game is because we’re in a much better place than the early noughties. It isn’t so long ago that we actually didn’t sell out Murrayfield for almost every tier 1 game and were on the verge of bankruptcy.

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    • Angerine on

      Totally agree. Financial stability is a huge piece of the puzzle for building rugby in Scotland. The Welsh Rugby Union, for example, make me feel grateful for Dodson.

      I also don’t get the line “there is more than enough cash to fund success on the field”. Assuming that “success on the field” means regularly beating other tier 1 nations, would “more than enough” not mean “more money than them”? Because the WRU turned over £90.5m
      in 2019, and the Irish Rugby Union turned over £75m.
      If you looked at a ratio between on-field success and turnover, you could argue that we’re doing better than anyone in the northern hemisphere.

      I do agree, though, that the SRU have shown no imagination as to how to spend their earnings. It was quite clear that the women’s game was the biggest growth market we had, and if we’ve properly invested in it ten years ago, we could be a major player right now. Similarly in terms of growing the game, we still seem to be confining our work to the same five border towns and five private schools (along with our South African grassroots programme, obv). I would love to see more communication from the SRU on how people can get involved, and most importantly WHY they should. I’d love to see them out in Castlemilk and Pilton, investing in rugby clubs, finding talented kids, offering uni scholarships and the chance to stick one on the posh kids.

      But this isn’t stuff that you do instead of becoming financially stable. In fact, if you aren’t financially stable, you won’t be able to do it.

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    • TENC on

      FF: ‘Totally agree the youth and community game need huge investment and support.’

      What do you mean specifically ? and how is that happening today ?

      It seems to me that todays players, are products of the noughties which was pre Dawson ?

      How much better will we be with financial stability ? Which I think is implicit in your summary , but I don’t get the linkage of financial stability to communities ?

      Reply
  4. Tam Tok on

    Would the Scottish Rugby Union be more profitable if it was successful on the pitch ?

    I say yes, but the cost is not worth the return. Happy to be criticized

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    • Highland Bear on

      Agree that we are entering region of diminishing returns. Growing the game in Scotland will be expensive and require diversion of SRU finance from the professional game. It will result in increased participation and a more healthy club game, but not necessarily improve the inputs to the professional side of the game, nor the international side which is the primary income generator.

      With Dodson one gets the feeling that he sees the club game as a loss leader and distraction from the income generating part of his role, hence the long-standing battle with the clubs over governance. Why invest in minis, midis and age groups when residency of a ready formed adult player from other unions is a more cost effective way of producing a ‘Scotland’ international player.

      The creation of the Director of Rugby role provides Dodson with a convenient potential scapegoat for when the wheels come off on the playing side as that individual is responsible for appointing national coaches and the development of the pathway structures.

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  5. Johnny B on

    No CEO can keep the supply of money going if the game ain’t growing.

    A decade ago we were cash strapped. Being solvent gives us opportunities but we’ve got to take them.

    It doesn’t have to be a 3rd pro team (although bettering the level we’ve reached with only 2 is difficult to foresee).

    I think a 3rd pro team will become an organic inevitability if we can boost the grassroots enough to provide players capable of playing that level and persuade people to support it.

    How much money should we spend trying to grow the game in areas where it has no tradition and sport generally is in poor shape such as Glasgow state schools v areas deemed to be small but where the game really means something such as the Borders or Edinburgh private schools?

    Those kind of questions are fundamental and results suggest we still haven’t got the answer.

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  6. James on

    How does £933k compare to CEO pay of: 1) commercial organisations and 2) other rugby unions? Because that is probably worth knowing if we’re looking to judge Dodson – is he providing value for money?

    My kids play mini rugby and the club is run very well by volunteer parents. There is a great community in rugby and the SRU should be looking to tap into and expand on this.

    The SRU should be looking to get current and former pro players out and about and visible for the kids. Get clubs to collect data on kids schools and then target schools where there are few kids playing for recruitment drives. Partner up with kids charities and get disadvantaged kids involved.

    Not expanding the game as it may cost too much is a false economy as it is those people who play/played the game that will buy the shirts and tickets and fund the more lucrative pro- level teams.

    I’m also really gutted that the sevens team have been scrapped. That also seems like a false economy as sevens rugby will probably continue to grow.

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    • FF on

      The sevens wasn’t scrapped to save money though, Scotland, Wales and England were told by World Rugby they had to enter a GB team to the sevens World Series to align with the Olympics.

      Your bang on the money that failing to invest in grass roots is a false economy. There are gains we have largely achieved by investment in the elite end. To get better we need to grow the game, create a more competitive youth scene and see the benefits of better athletes being raised in more competitive environments.

      The sad thing is there should be a big opportunity for rugby. Our country might be obsessed with football but our national team and clubs are absolutely hopeless and there is no realistic prospect of them getting better. Rugby is a game where we should be able to capture the r national imagination and get kids involved in the sport but our efforts are lacklustre to say the least.

      Reply
      • BryzzoWan78 on

        Yes, but why was it more beneficial to those unions to align with once-every-four-years diluted nationality competition, vs the yearly standard for international rugby which would allow them to present their own team? I posted this question previously – money must have come into it, the Olympics isn’t THAT much of a draw that you’d relinquish your very brand, surely?

      • FF on

        The implication from the SRU statement, that it was mandated, is that World Rugby would not let them compete in the World Series as individual nations any longer. I’m not sure they were given the option of opting out of Olympic qualification to preserve their individual identities – I think it was merge or be out of the World Series choice.

        The Olympics might be of limited value to the home unions, but to World Rugby it is huge. It unlocks national funding in lots of development countries. The question is was it insistence by the Olympic Committee or World Rugby that the previous fudge was no longer suitable?

      • Warmer on

        People in rugby clubs are doing their best to encourage kids. Is that ‘lack-lustre efforts’ ?

      • FF on

        No, I wasn’t referring to volunteers. I thought it was clear from my post that the lacklustre efforts were from the SRU and the pretty limited investment it has made in the youth and community game.

        I think it’s very hard for rugby to break out of its traditional strongholds without that kind of investment.

    • Saint4805 on

      Exactly. We really need to do some benchmarking against other home nations in order to assess things more accurately. Knowing how revenue and profitability has increased for the other home nations would help determine whether this is down to 6N TV money, sponsorship etc. or Dodson’s performance as CEO.

      Reply
  7. Big Al on

    Was listening to Jonnie Beatie interviewing a guy from Network Rail on the way home yesterday. He was getting a really hard time because the CEO Andrew Haines’ personal salary was £590k and that was really unfair because that was 20 times the average salary in network rail. I wouldn’t want to be the CEO of either organisation as the rewards dont match the grief that these people get.

    Having said that being a rugby supporter is less about finances and more about passion. We always want our team to get better and do well and pay for the product. If the CEo isnt showing the same passion and just focusses on the money he’s not going to be loved by the fans.

    As for the game in Scotland there is no doubt we need more investment at youth level and more pathways for regular school kids, on top of private ones, to make it as professionals. Maybe the SRU should be using Finn Russell as more of a role model.

    Reply
  8. Scrummo on

    Judging by pre-Dodson era and current Dodson era I would suggest Dodson may not be the CEO that Scottish rugby wants but he’s probably the one it needs.

    Reply
  9. Alanyst on

    You can’t do anything when you’re broke and sustained profits eventually need to go somewhere…hard to argue that we would be better off by spending more. SRU should be funding root and branch rugby infrastructure improvements. Murrayfield is not getting younger, bigger or better. Spending on players/coaches is not always rewarded.

    Reply
  10. Sam Laycock on

    Read the piece on Siobhan Cattigan this evening. Devastated but somehow not surprised. You just know every word rings true. When it comes to Head injuries and mental health this is the reality behind the catchphrase “Player welfare is our top priority”Maybe there are a few elite at the top of the mens game that would have a different experience but I’m sure this could just as easily have happened to wider squad players at Edinburgh or Glasgow, 7’s, age grade and evidently Womans internationals. I feel so sorry for her family.

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    • FF on

      This is absolutely appalling and sounds extremely negligent on the part of the coaching team and medical employees (callous on the part of SRU). How could treatment be this poor in this day and age after a decade of concussion awareness? I just can’t get me head around how so many people let her down so badly. I hope the family eventually finds some solace after such a terrible tragedy.

      Reply

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