16 Apr 2020

Worst-case best plan for player pay cuts

7:25 pm on 16 April 2020

New Zealand's elite rugby players are used to taking big hits.

All Blacks flanker Sam Cane

All Blacks flanker Sam Cane Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

But coming in at a combined $25 million, or 50 per cent of their remaining payments for this year, this blow stung in an entirely different way.

After several weeks of negotiations, details were confirmed concerning pay cuts for the country's leading players as New Zealand Rugby braced for a signifcant financial hit as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The figures, though, would only come to fruition if a resumption of matches in 2020 simply wasn't possible.

Players Association boss Rob Nichol said planning for the worst-case scenario was a vital part of their discussions.

"We did it so players could get their heads around what it looked like, get the advice, guidance and support they needed to pull the levers or act now to manage that scenario.

"But we're hopeful that there will be an opportunity to get on the field, and it may be that we get to the point we can unfreeze some of these payments.

Of the almost 300 players affected, those with base salaries of more than $50,000 would lose 15 per cent of that, growing to 30 per cent in September.

Those with a base salary under $50,000 would not lose any of that retainer.

That was something made possible, in part, by top earning players sacrificing a greater chunk of their total pay packets.

Additional payments such as assembly fees, incentives and bonuses have been frozen for all players and Nichol said that was where the leading players would be shouldering more of the load.

"That's something our player membership is comfortable with. That's about them stepping up in the positions that they're in.

"That was all part of the strategy we put together and everyone brought into, so the players have handled it fantastically."

The chief executive of the International Rugby Players Association, Rob Nichol.

The chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, Rob Nichol. Photo: Photosport

The announcement had been several weeks in the making.

New Zealand Rugby head of professional Chris Lendrum said neither party felt in any rush, adding fairness and a complex player payment system meant negotiations needed to be thorough.

"There's a number of different buckets players can potentially qualify for.

"Just getting the balance of how we reduced all of those different buckets was really important to us because equity and fairness is hugely important."

It was all about trying to minimise the financial impact on everyone involved with rugby in New Zealand.

Lendrum said while the agreement worked on a worst-case scenario, they were hopeful it wouldn't get to that and ready to adjust things accordingly.

"We've got the ability to sit down with [the players] at any point and review where we're at.

"As things improve, then we get together with them immediately and talk about how we might want to allocate increased revenue."

That, of course, depended on the multi-million dollar question of when matches could resume.

Dates or formats of any kind were yet to be agreed but Nichol said up to eight different scenarios were in play.

He said while several ideas were being tossed around, the return to play priorities for players were clear.

"When rugby comes back it should be part of societies, or our cultures, recovery from this. It should be because it's the appropriate thing to do in terms of our country, our population and our fight against this pandemic.

"We don't want to be trying to take shortcuts or doing something that's particularly special."

Potential pay cuts for provincial players were still to be confirmed, with Nichol saying there was some way to go in those discussions.