Jacky Lorenzetti has no intention of joining in the chorus that rugby players are paid too much and that one legacy ramification of the current coronavirus pandemic must be that salaries should be lower than they are in 2019/20.
The Racing 92’s president’s wings may have been clipped this week by his admission that the Parisians have failed in their ambitious seven-figure plan to secure the loan services of Maro Itoje next season. But he has no interest in siding with club owners in France and England who believe the stoppage to fight the virus outbreak is a perfect opportunity to reset the sport and bring spiralling player wages under control.
Lorenzetti’s business ventures, such as a calendar of sold-out concerts at Racing’s ground and his wine portfolio, have been hard hit by the pandemic, but he doesn’t believe rugby needs to cut its cloth to manage its bottom line going forward.
In an interview in the latest edition of Midi Olympique, the French bi-weekly rugby publication, the business magnate spoke about the current player salary cuts that have spread through the game globally. “I ask you a question: would you agree to lower your salary by 30 per cent? Wages in rugby are not extravagant. So I’m not a staunch defender of lower wages,” he said, dismissing the likes of Montpellier president Mohed Altrad, who revealed that his club lost €700,000 due to the stoppage.
“We are all talking about heavy losses in the Top 14 budgets but we are not talking about the considerable aid from the government. Our players receive from the state 84 per cent of their net salary, do you realise? We are talking about significant wages, wages far above the income of those who touch the minimum wage twice to save our lives. The French social system is exceptional. So stop crying, it becomes indecent. Rugby is not just about numbers and scribbles of accountants.
“I have been in rugby for twelve years. I’ve never seen a club shut down before. In the Top 14, everyone has their economic model but it works: the investment of a patron who takes care of their ego a little; the intervention of social patrons like in Clermont or Castres, who have created clubs to distract the city because what would Clermont and Castres be without rugby clubs?
“The CO, the ASM, these are the headlights of the week. There is also the classic model of a club that relies on its territory, such as Toulouse, Bordeaux or La Rochelle. And then there are entrepreneurs like me who are trying out a new model.
“I’ve put in €35 million over the past ten years, but now Racing and the Arena operates in near independence. The break-even point would be an average of 15,500 spectators at the Arena. And we are not very far…”
Lorenzetti refused to be downcast by the current situation, despite its potential cashflow implications. “The situation is not far from being catastrophic for our performance hall,” he admitted.
“McCartney is 40,000 seats. Green Day, 40,000 seats. And then we sold close to 200,000 tickets for Celine Dion. So there you have it, today we have to talk to agents, insurers and producers to find solutions. The futures (in the wine business) were postponed because there were no longer any Asian, Russian or American customers. Today, I have over a million bottles on my back. Won’t you help me drink them?
“Yeah, it’s weird, all that. The stock market is collapsing, the real estate is at a standstill but still, morale is good. We will defeat the baby, the rebound will be good… I’m an eternal optimist and I don’t have to complain. The real heroes of this time, it’s the doctors and nurses who are fighting to save lives.”
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