The Rugby Football Union has refused to rule out funding cuts for top-flight women’s clubs after it was announced that Tyrrells will be ending its sponsorship of the Premier 15s league in August.
The RFU is hopeful of securing another title partner, insisting it remains “an attractive proposition”, but warned there would be no guarantees for the 10 clubs, with the union forecasting losses of up to £122m because of the coronavirus pandemic if the men’s autumn internationals do not go ahead.
When Tyrrells became the title sponsor for the Premier 15s in 2017, the RFU pledged investment of £2.4m into the league over the next three years, which equates to £80,000 a season for each club. This season’s Premier 15s competition was declared null and void in March and the RFU said it was unable to offer assurances over the same level of financing in the future.
“The RFU has been very clear on the financial impact of Covid-19 if autumn internationals don’t go ahead,” a spokesperson said. “The women’s game and Premier 15s remain key priorities; however, like all businesses, until we have clarity on absolute revenues, we can’t provide absolute guarantees on any future funding.
“The women’s game is crucial to the health of the overall game and we are proud of the role we will continue to play in investing and growing participation by ensuring the women’s game is not hit disproportionally.”
The Premier 15s has enjoyed considerable growth in its three seasons and peak viewing figures of the 2019 final were more than double those of 2018. Live attendances have risen by 27% but given that the sponsorship market has felt the full force of the pandemic, it is unlikely the RFU will be able to secure a deal as lucrative as that with Tyrrells.