Northampton Saints plc, the parent company of Aviva Premiership Rugby club Northampton Saints, continues to lead the way in English professional sport by declaring a 16th year of profitability.
The achievement is unprecedented in top flight professional rugby and is even more remarkable given that it was a year of significant disruption on and off the pitch that affected the club’s income from playing and commercial activities.
On the field there was no Anglo-Welsh Cup – the 2015 Rugby World Cup bringing about a shortened domestic season – or home knockout games, while off the field the building of the new Barwell Stand greatly reduced the club’s capacity for its Franklin’s Gardens conferencing and events business and curtailed match day hospitality income for the first half of the season.
Despite this the Saints was able to increase turnover by just under 1 percent to £16.608 million and declare a pre-tax profit of £652,000. Shareholder funds increased to £19.8 million.
Chairman Tony Hewitt says that the financial results are good news for the club and reflect the hard work that goes on behind the scenes at Franklin’s Gardens.
"I would like to thank the board of directors, all our staff and players for their commitment and hard work throughout the year," he says in his Chairman’s Statement. "We all depend on each other, and for a club like Northampton Saints to be successful it needs everyone to be working together for the same aim."
Hewitt added that there are plenty of reasons to feel positive for the campaign going forward, building on a year that saw 13 players from the Saints represent four countries and the team reach the knockout stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup for a second successive year.
"It says a great deal about the expectations we have here at Northampton Saints that a fifth-placed finish in the Aviva Premiership and a second successive quarter final in the European Rugby Champions Cup – losing to the eventual champions, Saracens – and a place in the final of the Aviva ‘A’ League is regarded as underachievement," he said.
"We were proud to have Dylan Hartley become the first Saint to captain England to a Six Nations Grand Slam and then lead his country to an unprecedented whitewash of Australia in the June tour. We were also delighted to see Harry Mallinder, who has come through our Academy, lead England to the World Rugby Under-20 Championship title.
"We remain committed to spending up to the maximum allowed under the salary framework. This involves a three-pronged approach – retaining our experience and international players; bringing the best available players to the club; and developing our own young players through the Academy system.
"Inevitably the competition for players, particularly from clubs in the Top 14 and our English rivals in the Aviva Premiership, is driving up costs for players. This means that we are under pressure to create additional revenues and to this end we are continuing our investment into our facilities here at Franklin’s Gardens.
"Providing a match day experience to our supporters that encourages them to come back game after game is crucial, and we are committed to improve this, as well as giving players, coaches and support staff the facilities they need to create a successful team."
Chief executive Allan Robson said that the increased capacity available at Franklin’s Gardens which has been brought by the Barwell Stand development is already having a positive impact on attendances, and was happy that commercial revenues still grew despite the disruptions the building work brought for half the year.
"Aside from the normal demands of arguably the toughest domestic schedule in rugby union, 2015/16 presented Saints with two further challenges to the club’s normal smooth-running operation – the disruptive effect of having to prepare a playing squad without seven international players representing their countries in Rugby World Cup 2015 and the completion of the new Barwell Stand," he comments in his Strategic Report. "We did not qualify for an Aviva Premiership semi-final for the first time in seven years, and the reduced number of home matches in the absence of the Anglo-Welsh competition, pre-season fixtures or a Premiership semi-final resulted in our rugby income being reduced by 10 percent compared to the previous year.
"Despite this we are still able to report a record turnover in 2015/16.
"I am pleased to confirm the Barwell Stand was completed on time, on budget, and to our expectations. Our total stadium capacity is now 15,249 and the standard of the new facility is already proving attractive to supporters on match days, and to customers requiring a top class venue for conferences, meetings and events on non-match days.
"Supported by our highest ever number of Season Ticket Holders, up 17.5 percent at 10,286, we increased our average home attendance to 14,835, over 97 percent of our enlarged capacity. We were pleased that despite the unavailability of the new Barwell Stand hospitality facilities until January, match day hospitality sales showed an increase of 5 percent on the previous year with demand for executive boxes exceeding supply."
Going into the 2016/17 the Saints have new sponsors – global heavy equipment manufacturer Kubota and GRS Group, the country’s leading aggregate transporter – as well as renewed deals with Principal Sponsor Travis Perkins plc and existing Elite Sponsor Hankook Tyres and a new teamwear and leisurewear partner in Macron.
International players such as French number eight Louis Picamoles, Argentine centre Juan Pablo Estelles and Emerging Springboks scrum-half Nic Groom are joining a squad which already includes England captain Dylan Hartley and a host of household names.
With the coming season also seeing the start of a new eight-year agreement between Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union, Robson joined Hewitt in feeling positive about the future.
"The essence of the new agreement is continued and improved guaranteed access to selected players for the England representative sides in exchange for improved funding to the clubs which develop and employ these players," he said.
"Great emphasis has been placed on the clubs achieving certain criteria regarding Academy standards and English Qualified Player levels, which all parties agree will be of benefit to the English game generally. Saints will continue to support the spirit and detail of this new agreement whilst striving for its own success on the field and off it.
"The club was able to increase its expenditure on players by over £1 million in the Rugby World Cup year, and we also believe it is critically important to ensure that investment is maintained in our future by ensuring that our Academy and youth development system continues to set the standard for other clubs to follow, and in 2015/16 expenditure in this area was also increased.
"The Board continues to acknowledge that the success and future of Northampton Saints is the strength of our relationship with supporters and sponsors and in 2016/17 will therefore see not only increased investment in our playing department but also into the Franklin’s Gardens match day experience."