Don't Panic! Dragons had to slash budget but moves now afoot to boost performances

IN THE HOT SEAT: Dragons chief executive Chris Brown

IN THE HOT SEAT: Dragons chief executive Chris Brown

First published in Sport South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

NEWPORT Gwent Dragons chief executive Chris Brown has admitted the region slashed its playing budget in order to avoid going bust – but he says steps are now being taken to boost performances on the pitch.

Brown was brought in to sort out the region’s finances by former Newport owner and current Dragons board member Tony Brown (no relation) in March.

He was at the helm this summer when auditors expressed concerns over whether the region could continue as a going concern. They posted debts of £2.4million and made a loss of £270,000.

Those figures were a legacy of the construction of the Bisley Stand, which cost £5 million and was funded by Tony Brown (around £3 million) and chairman Martyn Hazell (around £2 million).

The chief executive believes that things are now looking much brighter financially and that the new stand is the future of the region.

But, while stressing the rugby specifics were not his department, he acknowledged that matters need to improve on the pitch.

“The rugby business needs to be sustainable and competitive,” he said at a meeting with Dragons fans.

“It is now much more sustainable than it was and it’s not as competitive as we would want it to be.

“If we hadn’t made the business more organised and sustainable then it wouldn’t have been here in the long term.

“That was a remit for me to get to grips with and to do something about.

“The plan this year is to break even or make some profit,” he continued.

“That is the first thing I talked about in terms of sustainability. What we haven’t got at the moment is competitiveness.

“Being competitive is terribly important to us – we have got to get a product on the pitch and you can rest assured we spend a lot of time talking about that with coaches, talking about that with players and amongst ourselves, with the directors.

“It isn’t just a talking shop; we do plan to come up with some actions. But the first thing we have to be is sustainable.”

The two issues do, however, go hand in hand and Brown acknowledged that on-field performance was not acceptable.

The chief executive said that the aim by 2020 – a speculative date set by the management team in terms of their long-term goals – was to be competitive in Europe’s primary competition.

Given that the Dragons have not been in the Heineken Cup for two seasons and that they lag behind their Welsh rivals in the RaboDirect Pro12, plenty of work needs to be done to realise such ambitions.

“We said at the start of the season that we would like to be the third team in Wales,” said Brown. “That’s not going well and we are looking at that very seriously.

“Without going into specifics, we have talked about the need for more strength in depth, strength in terms of foreign players and key players in core positions.

“And given that the performance is poor you can rest assured that the coaches and coaching staff are under an awful lot of pressure to succeed.

“But is finishing one from bottom and breaking even a successful year? Yes, in that it is so much better than going bust.”

When asked about the composition of the board and whether there was a danger of it resembling “a gentleman’s club”, Brown insisted that they are on the lookout for new blood and fresh ideas.

But he emphasised that their primary objective was to get the business on a sound footing rather than hunting for sugar daddies.

“One of the negatives of Welsh rugby is that it relies on benefactors, and a small number of them,” said Brown.

“Being sustainable in the long term is about not relying on Tony Brown or not relying on (Dragons board member and Celtic Manor chief executive) Dylan Matthews for that matter.

“He has come on to the board to bring his expertise, he has masses of expertise within his organisation.

“It’s not about him taking over a benefactor role. We want a sustainable business and that’s one of the absolute difficulties within Welsh rugby.

“Tony does not want to put any more money into this business and having a sustainable business is about bringing in new people and that is what we are trying to do.

“Not relying on benefactors old and new? Absolutely. Bringing new people and ideas in? Absolutely.”

Brown also said he believes the groundshare with Newport County – which has a one-season release clause – is worth continuing.

“The football was and is a good opportunity for this business and (the groundshare) is something that I believe we should carry on doing.

“There were and are some weaknesses with regard to football, perhaps the biggest one is the pitch, so we do have to watch this space.

“But in terms of a commercial opportunity we feel it’s one that we have grasped reasonably well.

“There are aspects we would do differently but Newport County doing well in their league is good for hospitality, catering and income. It’s working quite well.”

Comments (11)

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8:47am Thu 15 Nov 12

Regionalist says...

Let the ****-slinging commence...
Let the ****-slinging commence... Regionalist
  • Score: 0

9:20am Thu 15 Nov 12

Dai the Milk says...

'The new stand is the future of the region'............I can just imagine Toulon and Toulouse running out onto the pitch and thinking 'Oh my God'.......'just look at that concrete'..........'
isn't it beautiful?'
'The new stand is the future of the region'............I can just imagine Toulon and Toulouse running out onto the pitch and thinking 'Oh my God'.......'just look at that concrete'..........' isn't it beautiful?' Dai the Milk
  • Score: 0

10:35am Thu 15 Nov 12

East Newport Dave says...

Well at least someone has had the decency to let us know what is going on. There is now far more chance of me paying for a ticket because, as far as I was concerned, the region was just fleecing the supporters. I am now minded to get behind the team again as long as there is method. It must start with the coaches. Are they up to the job? And then we needed hardened quality front five forwards.
Well at least someone has had the decency to let us know what is going on. There is now far more chance of me paying for a ticket because, as far as I was concerned, the region was just fleecing the supporters. I am now minded to get behind the team again as long as there is method. It must start with the coaches. Are they up to the job? And then we needed hardened quality front five forwards. East Newport Dave
  • Score: 0

10:45am Thu 15 Nov 12

silurix says...

confirms what should have been blatantly obvious anyway. No money - no resources. No resources - no performance. You don't need to be a Warren Buffet to work that one out. The Dragons have sacrificed short term performance in order to survive. They could have taken the other option of using debt to finance the acquisition of playing resources but that would have made them extremely vulnerable to bankruptcy and closure by the WRU ( who would regard it as a cost cutting exercise ). That's business. That's the harsh reality of professional rugby. The WRU itself is not out of the financial mire yet either. If the national team starts to falter then that could have unpleasant consequences for revenue and hence funding of the regions. Interesting times.
confirms what should have been blatantly obvious anyway. No money - no resources. No resources - no performance. You don't need to be a Warren Buffet to work that one out. The Dragons have sacrificed short term performance in order to survive. They could have taken the other option of using debt to finance the acquisition of playing resources but that would have made them extremely vulnerable to bankruptcy and closure by the WRU ( who would regard it as a cost cutting exercise ). That's business. That's the harsh reality of professional rugby. The WRU itself is not out of the financial mire yet either. If the national team starts to falter then that could have unpleasant consequences for revenue and hence funding of the regions. Interesting times. silurix
  • Score: 0

12:54pm Thu 15 Nov 12

Robert Shillabeer says...

The fact that the Dragons have very little money is not new, just look at the financial reports over the last few years. The fact that we get crowds of around five thousand on a fairly consistent basis is some comfort and with the extra income from Newport County playing at RP helps quite a bit. Performances on the field have not been great and we have a large number of injuries adding to the problems. The game on Sunday is probably a no win situation but the team will go out and do thier best and provide some entertaining sport. Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully the faithful will continue thier support over the coming year.
The fact that the Dragons have very little money is not new, just look at the financial reports over the last few years. The fact that we get crowds of around five thousand on a fairly consistent basis is some comfort and with the extra income from Newport County playing at RP helps quite a bit. Performances on the field have not been great and we have a large number of injuries adding to the problems. The game on Sunday is probably a no win situation but the team will go out and do thier best and provide some entertaining sport. Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully the faithful will continue thier support over the coming year. Robert Shillabeer
  • Score: 0

1:38pm Thu 15 Nov 12

East Newport Dave says...

3.15pm Sunday kick off!! Everything is stacked against the region, financially. The WRU/league could help a bit by at least allowing non-televised games to be played on a Saturday afternoon.
3.15pm Sunday kick off!! Everything is stacked against the region, financially. The WRU/league could help a bit by at least allowing non-televised games to be played on a Saturday afternoon. East Newport Dave
  • Score: 0

2:54pm Thu 15 Nov 12

saltheartfoamfollower says...

Such lofty ambition to be the third team in Wales.Whats wrong with First?
Such lofty ambition to be the third team in Wales.Whats wrong with First? saltheartfoamfollower
  • Score: 0

3:40pm Thu 15 Nov 12

Robert Shillabeer says...

Tv coverage is good only for two things, firstly an income stream which is two edged, why pay to go when you can watch for free. Secondly it an be recorded allowing you to watch it again. It don't beat being there though.
Tv coverage is good only for two things, firstly an income stream which is two edged, why pay to go when you can watch for free. Secondly it an be recorded allowing you to watch it again. It don't beat being there though. Robert Shillabeer
  • Score: 0

8:47pm Thu 15 Nov 12

Keith Barnett says...

Doesn't sound like they've got the brains of Britain there does it? Chuck the baby out with the bathwater!
It's all about winning - don't get that right then you have no hope
If the Celtic Manor cut it's costs repeatedly, didn't invest and p***ed off its customers they would be in big trouble!
Just like the Dragons are and will be for a while.
I still feel that there will only be 2, maybe 3 regions in 5 years time. The Dragons won't be one of them unless they are successful
From what I hear and see to be successful you need to invest and we ain't got the money to invest.
Brown's blueprint before he was highjacked by Ebbw Vale and the WRU WAS the way forward
But that's the old days...............
Doesn't sound like they've got the brains of Britain there does it? Chuck the baby out with the bathwater! It's all about winning - don't get that right then you have no hope If the Celtic Manor cut it's costs repeatedly, didn't invest and p***ed off its customers they would be in big trouble! Just like the Dragons are and will be for a while. I still feel that there will only be 2, maybe 3 regions in 5 years time. The Dragons won't be one of them unless they are successful From what I hear and see to be successful you need to invest and we ain't got the money to invest. Brown's blueprint before he was highjacked by Ebbw Vale and the WRU WAS the way forward But that's the old days............... Keith Barnett
  • Score: 0

1:35pm Fri 16 Nov 12

cambridge4x4 says...

I cannot believe that any CEO would say it will take us about 8 years ( 2020) to get out of this mess . Where else in business could companies take this time.
I agree it needs a year or two but not certain I can keep my season ticket going this long to be competetive in the European Cups ???.
What other major sports management team could ask for 8 years to get competitive and still be in place 24 hours later ?
I cannot believe that any CEO would say it will take us about 8 years ( 2020) to get out of this mess . Where else in business could companies take this time. I agree it needs a year or two but not certain I can keep my season ticket going this long to be competetive in the European Cups ???. What other major sports management team could ask for 8 years to get competitive and still be in place 24 hours later ? cambridge4x4
  • Score: 0

5:54pm Fri 16 Nov 12

silurix says...

Cam
they've obviously thought about it - have you? Sounds to me like they're just trying to be realistic and showing a bit of respect to the supporters by not trying to kid them with unrealistic promises. There's no guarantee that it will happen by 2020 either. None of the Welsh regions has been successful in Europe ( counting success as a place in the final ) in the past 8 years - some of them with far greater finances than the Dragons. Why should it be different in the next 8 years? If you are planning to base your growth on nurturing local talent then it will obviously take a lot longer than splashing out with the cheque book ( not an option here ). The obsession with instant gratification which seems to be infecting us all these days is not a good foundation on which to build sustainable prosperity. Full marks to Tony Brown I say. The Dragons need to get out of the rut that they are currently in , but after that, slow progress is probably the only realistic option. Let me make a prediction - none of the Welsh regions will get near to winning the Heineken cup within the next 2 years - no, make that 5 years.
Cam they've obviously thought about it - have you? Sounds to me like they're just trying to be realistic and showing a bit of respect to the supporters by not trying to kid them with unrealistic promises. There's no guarantee that it will happen by 2020 either. None of the Welsh regions has been successful in Europe ( counting success as a place in the final ) in the past 8 years - some of them with far greater finances than the Dragons. Why should it be different in the next 8 years? If you are planning to base your growth on nurturing local talent then it will obviously take a lot longer than splashing out with the cheque book ( not an option here ). The obsession with instant gratification which seems to be infecting us all these days is not a good foundation on which to build sustainable prosperity. Full marks to Tony Brown I say. The Dragons need to get out of the rut that they are currently in , but after that, slow progress is probably the only realistic option. Let me make a prediction - none of the Welsh regions will get near to winning the Heineken cup within the next 2 years - no, make that 5 years. silurix
  • Score: 0

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