Company News » Nick Eastwood, finance director, Rugby Football Union

If you thought that the battles taking place on the hallowed turf of
Twickenham these past few weeks have been bruising, take a moment to look across
the road at the offices of the game’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union.

With revenues and profits plummeting in the last financial year; a
club-versus-country debate reaching epic proportions; a chief executive in
Francis Baron who seems constantly under fire; a rampant press which smells
blood; and a badly performing national side, times have certainly been better.
Finance director Nick Eastwood, however, seems unfazed. If truth be told, he
seems positively serene.

Johnny Wilkinson’s match-winning return to the England starting line up no
doubt helped, but even Wilkinson’s famous left boot cannot kick the RFU’s other
myriad problems into touch. Chief among these, it appears, are the finances. In
November, the RFU announced a 2006 pre-tax loss of £1.7m against revenues of
£82.7m. Revenues were down £3.9m on 2005; pre-tax earnings down a massive £8.1m.

But, again, Eastwood is buoyant. “It’s very healthy,” he says. “We’re
probably three times the size of any other union in the world. We have a balance
sheet of £120m and it’s all going into a revenue-generating asset [the
redevelopment of Twickenham’s south stand]. They’re very, very solid

But there’s no doubt those foundations have been rocked over the past two or
three years. Ever since England’s 2003 World Cup triumph, the national side has
been in interminable decline. And on-field failure directly equates to off-field
financial misery – if the team is performing badly, nobody wants to watch them
and if nobody wants to watch England play, revenues collapse.

Team performance
So, being finance director of the RFU doesn’t come without its difficulties –
revenues are bunched around the few home internationals that England play and
fortunes are, to a great degree, determined by how successful the team is in
those games. It is also a very public organisation: everyone has an opinion on
how England are performing and many have an opinion on the underlying financial

“I think the single thing that’s most different about the RFU [from ordinary
businesses] is that you’ve effectively got twin bottom lines, or you’ve got a
twin set of objectives,” says Eastwood. “The primary objective is playing… and
then you’ve got the twin effect which is an economic one, i.e. trying to make
significant returns from the commercial operation so you can invest back in.”

The problem is that both are inextricably linked: in November last year,
Francis Baron said that the poor on-field performances of England had directly
cost the RFU £3.6m. Acknowledging this, the RFU had by that time introduced
several cost-cutting measures – budgets were slashed and positions made
redundant. And if the 2006 results were anything to go by, it’s a good job that
they were. Eastwood “trimmed” all of the RFU’s main overhead areas and reduced
budgets by 2.5%, with the combined result being a planned £4m saving. “It’s a
one-off,” he says. “We’re just trying to trim it down.”

The reality is that the RFU, as with the vast majority of the country, got it
badly wrong following the 2003 World Cup. Then, the RFU was riding a huge
financial high. But following the dips in performance, the governing body failed
to read the signs; rather than see the dips as a permanent slide, and adjust
forecasts and budgets accordingly, they saw it as a temporary blip – a World Cup
hangover, if you like. As a result, the RFU was being run on the assumption that
England was among the top three teams in the world.

“Early in the year we said we can’t continue to base our financial planning
on that assumption,” says Eastwood. “It just doesn’t stack up. So we really
turned it on its head and said we’ll base our cost levels on a relatively
mediocre [on-field] performance until we see evidence of a real upturn. We d
idn’t feel like we could sit and wait around much longer on the basis that we’d
return to winning ways.”

Waiting game
The situation highlights the delicate balance that the RFU must operate under
and clearly demonstrates how reliant it is on the fortunes of the national team
– an arbitrary asset, the success of which is difficult to predict.

Eastwood often refers to the RFU as being similar to a pharmaceutical company
– huge amounts of investment may take years to come to fruition – if, indeed, it
ever does. Investiture in grass roots rugby, which accounts for about a quarter
of RFU costs (£14.1m in 2006), may have no payback. And if there is a return on
that investment, it is unlikely to be realised for several years.

“The way we look at it is, if you look at mini rugby, which we invest in –
not necessarily directly but through the clubs – those kids are either players
of the future, they’re spectators of the future, they’re the television watchers
of the future or they’re the people who end up in companies in marketing
positions,” says Eastwood. “I think if we turn off that tap, the game will start
to wither just like if a drugs company cut out its R&D budget; it would make
massive profits in the short term, but would be bust after 10 years.”

Eastwood is particularly philosophical about the quest for profits – probably
born out of his previous role as head of corporate services at Anita Roddick’s
socially-responsible cosmetics company, The Body Shop. “Profit is a bit like
breathing – you have to breathe to live but you don’t live to breathe,” he says.
“The businesses which have been the most successful have always seen themselves
as primarily there to satisfy the customers. And profit will come from that.”

Sliding fortunes
The Union’s problem, however, comes not from a lack of profit but from a slide
in revenues. It’s impossible to invest in grass roots rugby or, indeed, elite
rugby if there’s no money to invest with, and a poorly performing national side
equates to much less money.

The recognition that the RFU was over-reliant on the fortunes of the national
team for its income was at the heart of the decision to diversify and redevelop
the south stand of Twickenham – a £100m commitment, of which just £20m was
financed through debt. “One of the key financial strategies that we’ve pursued
over the past eight years or so is diversification… to try and broaden the
revenue stream so, frankly, all our eggs aren’t in one basket. We’ve started to
run a number of concerts – it’s minor in the scheme of things, but two or three
concerts a year could be worth £1m. So it’s material,” says Eastwood.

More important are the hotel, conference centre and health club developments
in the south stand. “When the hotel is fully up to speed, probably non-rugby
revenues might be 20%,” he says. “So it’s not going to protect us if the whole
pack of cards collapses, but certainly it’s starting to build some sort of
solidarity and protection into the bottom end of the revenues.” This is much

Reserve tactics
Eastwood has also employed the tactic of building up balance sheet reserves to
guard against any financial eventuality and has put together a detailed
financial strategy document to illustrate the Union’s financial situation more
clearly. The RFU’s income can be mapped on a four-year cycle, which coincides
with the sporting calendar and the number of home internationals played. “There
are years where you only have four big games, and the next year you could have
six. And every fourth year you have the Rugby World Cup,” he says, explaining
that in World Cup year (of which 2007 is one) revenues take a dive because the
three autumn internationals, normally hosted at Twickenham, will not be played,
with millions of pounds worth of income lost as a result. “We’ve got to manage
the business over the long term and we look at the financial window as a
four-year cycle,” says Eastwood, which roughly equates to “up, down, up and then
right down”.

In each four-year cycle, balance sheet reserves must be increased by £2.5m,
with a minimum level of £7.5m being set – this should provide enough leeway for
the loss of a major home international or one or two significant sponsorship

For an organisation which is often criticised for being rather guarded and
stuck in the past, Eastwood runs a modern and forward-looking finance team.
“We’re fairly involved in the business and tend to look at numbers only as a
means to an end,” he says. “FDs must master the numbers but, at the end of the
day, the numbers only tell you certain things. I think the way most people make
decisions, certainly how I make decisions, is you have a gut feel of what’s

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