Off the pitch – looking to gain that extra yard

Saracens rugby club have been judged to have pushed the envelope too far. The Premiership champions have been docked an unprecedented 35 points and fined a record £5.3m for breaching the league’s stringent salary cap rules. The points deduction is the biggest penalty that the Premiership has within its rules. Within an hour of the ruling being made public yesterday, Saracens released a statement stating that they would launch an appeal and, in their eyes, had done nothing wrong.

Saracens have been the leading club for half a decade; they have been the Premiership champions in four of the last five seasons. Although the club have appealed; this ruling casts a long shadow over all their achievements and in turn points the finger at the business dealings of those rugby world cup heroes like the Vunipola brothers and the England captain Owen Farrell who were at the forefront of leading England to the final in Tokyo.

There has always been a large discrepancy in pay between rugby and their football counterparts and Saracens has been a club that has enjoyed the fruits of being nearer London and able to attract star players, bigger attendances and to encourage players entrepreneurial spirit in their business investments. But now those business investments are under scrutiny and the club’s reputation and accomplishments have been tarnished by this penalty that firmly says that they have gone too far.

As one North-West London club begins their appeal, another one in South-West London is due to hear the result of theirs on November 20th. Chelsea Football Club have been sanctioned by FIFA for breaking rules to sign youth players and slapped with a two-window transfer ban. The club denies any wrongdoing but again the curtain has been pulled back on what measures sporting clubs are doing in order to gain that extra edge on the pitch and seemingly on the balance sheet.

As sports teams and their businesses grow and the off-pitch story becomes as important to what happens on matchday, the sporting business need to have appropriate safeguarding and be prepared for the subsequent media backlash from any story.

Another ongoing saga across the back pages involves Derby County who are facing a protracted arbitration with their former captain Richard Keogh after his contract was terminated for gross misconduct following a car crash on a night out with two team-mates. Even though Keogh wasn’t driving the car and has not been charged with any crime, Derby have decided that his off-field behaviour warranted a pay-cut and his contract terminated. The fall out from this story stings for football fans as Keogh has been a long-time servant at the club.

The off-pitch business dealings for any club whether that be in football, rugby, cricket or any other sport have never been more heavily scrutinised in the media spotlight. Making sure the business has planned for any eventuality or crisis can pay dividend in the long-term. Often after a crisis, rebuilding a reputation through the media is the only way to communicate the club’s values and ensure brand and commercial partnerships continue to grow and flourish.

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