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John White: Letter from the Chairman

I hope you and your family are keeping safe and well during these challenging times. My thoughts and those of all of us at Saints continue to be with everyone affected by the incredibly difficult situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own local communities.

I wanted to write to you today to provide an insight on how we are managing the Club’s position through this difficult period, and also keep you informed of the measures we are putting in place to safeguard its future. Before I do, I would like to firstly thank and pay tribute to the many thousands of NHS staff and other key workers who are fighting this pandemic. Their bravery, determination and professionalism is an inspiration to us all, and I pass on the most sincere and heartfelt thanks from everyone at Northampton Saints. 

From the moment the country went into lockdown the overarching objective of the Board was to quickly implement a robust strategy to ensure we coped with the crisis. The Board meets remotely every week and has formed a specific finance group to continually scrutinise our fiscal health and plan for every eventuality. As you would expect, we have had to make cost-savings where possible, so all non-essential expenditure has been reduced or cut and we have paused any projects that are not considered absolutely necessary at this time.

“From the moment the country went into lockdown the overarching objective of the Board was to quickly implement a robust strategy to ensure we coped with the crisis.”

John White, Chairman

Our Chief Executive, Mark Darbon, and I dial-in to weekly meetings with Premiership Rugby to ensure we are briefed on the League’s scenario planning for a return to rugby and also to ensure our voice is heard in any decision making. We will continue to update you on any developments on the resumption of rugby, both in terms of the current season and ‘20/21, as soon as we have more information. As things stand, we remain hopeful that this season can be completed, though clearly, we need a number of things to come together to enable this to be the case and, of course, matches may look slightly different if we are able to start playing again soon.

Earlier this month, all staff including the playing group at the Club agreed to take a 25% salary reduction – although this did not apply to staff remunerated below a certain salary threshold to ensure they were protected. We have also taken advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for approximately two-thirds of our staff. 

From a day-to-day perspective the Club is in safe hands; Mark continues to drive the executive team – as well as a skeleton staff – who are committed to keeping every aspect of the Club functioning as it should. Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, is in regular contact with our core rugby staff and the squad. Each player has been allocated a strength and conditioning programme so that when the time comes to return to rugby, they will be ready to go. 

As well as ensuring we are ready for our return this season, we continue to plan for the long term. Chris, Mark and Paul Shields (Head of Recruitment & Retention) continue to actively work on player recruitment and retention, and we are delighted with the squad we have in place for next season and beyond.

The Saints Foundation continues to deliver its vital programmes and the demand for their services is increasingly rapidly. They currently work with some of the most vulnerable young people in the region, who even in normal circumstances face tremendous difficulties and may live in potentially harmful or disadvantaged environments. The additional emotional, practical and financial pressures placed on them and their families as a result of this pandemic, means they need the Foundation’s support more than ever. If you would like to donate to the Saints Foundation and contribute towards this important work, please visit their ‘Support Us’ page HERE.

“As well as ensuring we are ready for our return this season, we continue to plan for the long term. The Club is in safe hands.”

John White, Chairman

Despite the uncertainty with which this unprecedented crisis has presented us, the Club remains financially resilient. As you will know, Northampton Saints – like almost all of the Premiership’s clubs – is currently loss making. As such, the financial shock created by a dramatic halt to our revenue streams is extremely significant and will have lasting implications. The scale of the impact will of course be heavily dependent on the length of time it is until rugby can return, but for now we are confident we will weather the storm. Whilst we are not complacent about the financial challenges we face, we remain positive. We are strengthened in entering this unprecedented situation by having outright ownership of our fantastic facilities at Franklin’s Gardens, limited debt, a strong balance sheet and supportive shareholders – all of which are key ingredients when navigating a downturn like this. We also have a talented team of senior executives supported by excellent teams of managers and staff.

Undoubtedly, the investment by the private equity firm CVC into Premiership Rugby 12 months ago has meant that our cash reserves are stronger than they may otherwise have been; we have used that money wisely, repaying some loans and investing selectively, whilst also keeping some cash to cover our previously expected working capital requirements moving forwards. 

Given the pressure we are under, we are also fortunate to have thousands of passionate and loyal supporters who we hope will continue to stick with Northampton Saints through thick and thin. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, almost 4,000 of you have renewed your season tickets for the 2020/21 season, which is immensely pleasing and impressive. No doubt some of our supporters will be feeling the consequences of this crisis more than others and understandably won’t be in a position to renew yet, but on behalf of everyone at Saints, I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who have already committed to next season and to those of you planning to do so when you can. It really is very encouraging to see supporters backing the Club on such a large scale during this crisis.  

“The culture we have built at Saints over the years is paying dividends at this time of stress and challenge.”

John White, Chairman

Hospitality sales are also encouraging with many of our corporate partners having already renewed for September. Our long-standing sponsors like Travis Perkins, Carlsberg and Church’s remain incredibly supportive too, despite experiencing challenges of their own, and we are also having positive discussions with many new businesses about the prospect of sponsoring the Club in ‘20/21.

In addition, whilst some of the individual workstreams are now understandably being put on hold – and some projects will have to be delayed – we have also done a lot of work on the masterplan for Franklin’s Gardens in recent months, outlining the enhancements and improvements we wish to make to our site and our facilities over the long term. We look forward to sharing more detail with supporters once things return to normal.

Finally, I would particularly like to put on record how proud I am of the culture we have built at Saints over the years which is paying dividends at this time of stress and challenge. The reaction to the difficult imposed changes by senior players through to office workers has been amazing! On behalf of the Board and Directors, I thank each and every one of them for their understanding and support. 

Like you, I can’t wait until we’re all back together at Franklin’s Gardens enjoying rugby again – but until then; stay at home, stay safe and protect the NHS.

John White
Chairman