The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has announced a return to profit in its latest financial results.
Having sustained a €1m ($1.1m) deficit in 2013-14, the IRFU was able to present its 2014-15 Annual Report and Accounts reporting a net cash operating surplus of €1.2m.
A revenue surplus in excess of €8.7m was reported, with the national governing body crediting strong ticket sales, a new broadcast agreement and prize money generated by the national team – winner of the 2015 Six Nations Championship.
The IRFU will now increase funding to provincial and club rugby union in Ireland by €4m per-year, although the organisation’s honorary treasurer Tom Grace warned of potentially tough times ahead.
“There are significant risks facing the Union, including economic uncertainty, the free-to-air (television rights) issue and the relative financial strength of our partners and competitors in international and provincial rugby,” he said.
Irish rugby’s broadcast rights issue comes as the government seeks to ring-fence Ireland’s games in the Six Nations for free-to-air television. Minister for Communications, Alex White, in May launched a public consultation concerning the possible designation of Ireland’s Six Nations matches as one of three additional “events of major importance to society”.
Such a designation will ensure they remain available on a free-to-air basis for Irish television viewers under the Broadcasting Act 2009. IRFU chief executive Philip Browne has previously warned against any move to change the listing of Six Nations matches in the country, stating such a decision could have a “significant impact” on the sport.
Grace added: “For the second year in a row, the success of the national team in the Six Nations has boosted the level of prize money secured from the tournament. The strong support of the national team at the Aviva Stadium remains a vital source of revenue for the Union and contributes massively to the IRFU's ability to provide funding to all levels of the game in Ireland.”
A key pillar of the IRFU’s strategy for continued commercial success is securing a main sponsor when its agreement with telecommunications company Three expires in May next year. Browne confirmed that another sponsor is lined up to take over, although he refused to confirm whether the company in question was Three’s rival operator Vodafone.
Browne also rejected reports last month that a deal with Vodafone would be worth €50m over 10 years, claiming that the new sponsorship figures would amount to “a fraction of that.”
“The situation in relation to sponsorship is that we have an excellent sponsorship in place with Three which runs until the end of the current season so we’re working very closely with Three and their people in relation to the Rugby World Cup and in relation to the Six Nations,” he told the Irish Times newspaper.
“In the relation to sponsorship on that the score is that yes we have another sponsor in place lined up to take over. I’m not at liberty to say who they are but one thing I can say is that the figures that were bandied about in the media of €50 million are so totally off the wall that I don’t know where they came from.”