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Exeter Chiefs spark financial fears after failing to pay players on time

Insiders blame admin error and insist the club isn’t about to go bust

Exeter Chiefs went into Sunday’s Premiership game against Gloucester Rugby amid new speculation over the club’s financial viability after players recently received their wages late.

i has learnt the October pay was late by 10 hours on the last day of that month, but Chiefs are insisting this was a simple clerical error.

Insiders also insist the club is nowhere near going bust, at a time when feelings are raw following last season’s examples of London Irish, Wasps and Worcester each entering administration and dropping out of the Premiership.

A source’s explanation for the delay in wages is a member of the Exeter Chiefs staff who was processing the wages put them through to the wrong bank account, and instead of the money hitting the recipients’ accounts at a minute past midnight, it was paid in full by 10am.

The Chiefs’ financial director was aware of the error by 7.30am, contacted the bank and the mistake was corrected.

Nevertheless, any sign of an interruption to normal procedure is bound to cause concern among supporters, with Chiefs having reacted to the challenging financial situation in domestic rugby, including the reduced salary cap in the Premiership, by letting almost all their star players leave in the past two years, among other urgent measures.

In December 2022, chief executive and long-time benefactor Tony Rowe alleviated the Chiefs’ finances by buying a stake in the on-site hotel that had been majority-owned by the club, a move which required him to sell some of his own property assets.

The hotel was a £40m development completed in April 2022, and part of an expansion of the Sandy Park site that included development of the East Stand to raise capacity – a move that appears to have backfired in the difficult financial climate afflicting most if not all of the Premiership clubs.

Chiefs are far from alone in having millions of pounds in loans outstanding to banks and to the government related to the pandemic.

It has been reported that the Premiership are attempting to renegotiate the DCMS loan, made via Sport England, taken out by clubs to survive the Covid-19 period when stadiums were empty for months.

After the demise of London Irish, Wasps and Worcester, the 10 remaining Premiership clubs including Chiefs have been hit by the cost-of-living crisis, as well as spectators and sponsors querying the value of the slimmed-down league.

Exeter are understood to have seen season ticket sales down by 10 per cent and general ticket sales down by 20 per cent. Spectators at Sandy Park and other grounds have complained of high ticket prices, and there have been thousands of empty seats in the early part of this season, although Bath and Harlequins were full for their derby matches against Bristol and Saracens respectively this weekend.

Rowe, who made his fortune in telecommunications, has given two addresses on the state of the game this month.

He related Exeter’s experiences in European competition to a seminar of 42 European clubs in Toulouse the week before last, that was also attended by representatives of European Professional Club Rugby, World Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the United Rugby Championship.

And he used the annual remembrance service at Sandy Park, which included the playing squad and employees of the on-site conference centre, on 9 November to outline the future direction of the Chiefs.

Director of rugby Rob Baxter told i at the time: “Tony spoke to the whole squad, because he rarely has the opportunity to have everybody here. He spoke about the season, where he feels the season is going, where he thinks the overall rugby is going. And he spoke very emotionally from the heart and he really gave the group something that was quite exciting.

“He stood there and said ‘guys, I’m looking at a group I think will be winners for this club in the future’. He didn’t say it’s going to be next week, he didn’t say it has to be the end of the season or the end of next season. But he said he was as excited by this group as I’ve ever been by a group of young Exeter Chiefs players.”

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