The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) saw its gate receipts fall by around €5.8m (£5.3m/$6.9m) for the 2019-20 season, with the lack of Six Nations and Pro14 matches due to COVID-19 proving costly for the national governing body.
The IRFU suffered an overall deficit of €35.7m for the 2019-20 accounting period, which was extended to July 31 to cover 15 months in total in order to accommodate the Summer Tour and get closer alignment with branch year ends.
The results come after the IRFU posted its best financial year to date in 2019, with a surplus of over €28m. Last November’s Rugby World Cup in Japan would have ordinarily boosted the IRFU’s results but the huge impact of COVID-19 over recent months has been laid bare.
“The last six to eight months have been extraordinary and outside the experience of most, if not all of us, and not surprisingly this has had a significant impact on our accounts,” said Tom Grace, the IRFU’s honorary treasurer.
“Normally at this point I would be saying that Rugby World Cup distorts our result when compared to the previous year but this impact is dwarfed by the effect of COVID-19 and the change to our accounting period.”
The €35.7m deficit was posted after income fell from €87.5m to €79.2m and expenditure rose from €84.2m to just under €115m.
In terms of the reduced gate receipts, the IRFU pointed to the replacement of its usual Guinness Series of three Test matches at Aviva Stadium with two Rugby World Cup matches in August 2019 as having an impact.
The postponement of March’s Six Nations match against Italy due to the COVID-19 outbreak also had a “further significant impact” and hit the IRFU’s broadcasting income.
Net surplus arising from the Rugby World Cup in Japan – where Ireland reached the quarter-finals – exceeded expectations by circa €800,000 and the body’s commercial income did rise to €13.6m from €11.2m, but losses elsewhere have significantly impacted the IRFU’s results.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: “It is no surprise that Irish Rugby has experienced one of its worst financial years ever. COVID-19 will continue to challenge us all until a vaccine is available and we are very grateful to the government, our sponsors and our patrons for continuing to stand with us at a time where we are unable to fill the Aviva Stadium with our fantastic fans.”
Ireland resumed its Six Nations campaign on Saturday with a win against Italy at Aviva Stadium, although no fans were in attendance as the home team ran out 50-17 winners.