The Premiership’s richest club, Bristol, are spending under the salary cap

Bristol Bears will be well below the Premiership’s increased salary cap next season despite the riches of their billionaire owner Steve Lansdown due to a forecast cut in central funding to follow the new broadcasting deal.

Pat Lam will say goodbye to 17 players over the summer, including Kyle Sinckler, as part of what he called a “reset” process that will rely on experienced leaders such as Ellis Genge, Steven Lutatua and AJ MacGinty to guide a relatively young lad. group.

Lam explained that a 10-team league left him unable to secure players playing time. However, another factor was the renewal of the broadcast contract with TNT Sports. As things stand, clubs are expected to be around £1m worse off in TV money over the next two seasons, with a view to securing a more lucrative, longer-term broadcast deal after that period.

The shortfall will be made up by increased support from the Rugby Football Union as part of the new professional games partnership, as revealed Telegraph Sports last month, but Lam said Bristol, historically seen as big spenders in the days of Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra, have reassessed and plan to be well below the £6.4m salary cap.

“I don’t think we’ll get to £5m – that’s fine”

“We have a very exciting group and we will definitely be a smaller team,” Lam explained on Tuesday. “We will not spend up to the maximum limit either. At the moment I don’t think we’ll get to £5m – and that’s fine.”

Lam labeled the approach one of consolidation, stressing that Lansdown was still willing to commit funds.

“No doubt Steve could put up more money if he wanted to, why would you buy?” Lam said. “The product is really good, but the other side has to step up as well. If anything, the money he hired us is still there. It hasn’t changed. Same amount. What happened is that the other side fell – the TV business. Every club will feel it.

“I think Steve is testing us; saying “can you run the club right?” I have done this now. It just makes us put everything in order. We consolidate when, sure, they could add more money to it. Remember, this decision was made when news of this deal broke around Christmas time. If something. it sharpened our focus to make sure it’s not about individuals, it’s about the right people to play as a team, the right people in the organization to be effective and purposeful and do your job very well.

“We’re no different than the other businesses Steve has”

“We have too much fat on all the different edges – and we’re no different than the other hundreds of businesses that Steve owns or is looking to invest in. That is why he is very successful in what he does. I found it very liberating to work with Gavin Marshall (CEO Bristol Sport) and Tom Tainton (COO Bears) to sort this out. It’s a great exercise for us.”

Over-reliance on a single benefactor has been shown to be fraught with danger, and Bristol is clearly keen to avoid this; or at least work towards a more sustainable approach.

“Sometimes it’s ‘oh, this will be good because Steve will put money in,'” Lam continued. “He looked after us very well in Covid and now it’s our turn to make sure we look after his investment. I think we’ve shown in the last 10-11 weeks that we’re making huge improvements. This will continue next year.

“It made us look at recruiting, bring in the right people, look at some gems. We’ve proven we can find gems in the Championship and in BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) – guys who are hungry.”

“We have a responsibility to make sure we make good decisions”

The decision to raise the salary cap from £5m to £6.4m for the 2024-25 campaign has divided the Premiership. While some clubs have voiced their opposition, Rob Baxter, Exeter’s head of rugby, has stressed his support, even though his club will also be under the cap. Lam, used to tighter budgets from his time at Connacht, insisted clubs should be disciplined.

“You put (the cap) at £10m; it doesn’t mean we’re going to go to him,” he said. “The debt rests with the financial directors. Where I used to work, I was like “can I get this?” and they said “no we don’t have that money” or “yes you can but that’s all you’ve got” rather than “yeah buy it we’ll find the money elsewhere”.

“All those clubs that went bankrupt, I would look at the financial people and the decision to spend money they didn’t have. Gambling. Put the cap at £10m and if a club wants to go there, sure, but most clubs won’t if they’re smart because they’ll go under.

“We have a responsibility to make sure we make really good decisions to be a successful rugby club and work within the means we can afford. What this means is us, not Steve. Our goal from the beginning was to be less dependent on a financial backer. Steve was brilliant for us and we followed up (well) which earned us the trust and reputation to look after us during Covid.

“Now we’re coming back, it’s ‘let’s consolidate, look where we are.’ Who knows what’s around the corner, so let’s focus on what we’re doing and be efficient at what we’re doing and still try to be successful at what we’re doing.”

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