English clubs need to face up to the naked truth

Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 01:00

FRENCH NOTES: Their negotiating tactics have left little room for manoeuvre – if the ERC calls their bluff they are in real trouble

A FEW years ago the general manager of a leading Welsh provincial team was instructed by his board of directors to extend the contract of the club’s coach for two seasons. The coach and the GM were old friends having played together in their youth and had now worked together in management for several years. They were firm friends.

The board had further “riding instructions” for the GM. They wanted the coach’s new contract to contain only a modest wage increase despite the obvious improvement of the team performance. This would require some “high performance” negotiating skills from the GM, as the coach would be looking for a substantial increase.

The board made it clear that they wanted the right result.

The GM thought long and hard about the appropriate negotiating tactics to adopt with his old mate. He decided he had to disrupt the coach’s concentration and try to unsettle him. He would follow Napoleonic tactics and fight the battle on the ground of his choosing.

The coach arrived at the GM’s office for the meeting and was waiting outside. The GM asked him to wait for a moment. The GM proceeded to remove all his cloths and stand behind his desk stark, bollock naked.

He called for the coach to enter . . .

The coach had to admit, the sight of his old mate nude, and it must be said, not in the flower of his youth, had him very flustered.

The naked GM pounced: “We are very happy with your coaching. I am offering you a two-year extension to your contract but it has to be signed now as the board need to know your intentions.”

The coach later related to me that his mind was racing to keep up with events. “I am in the GM’s office. He is in the ‘raw’. There is a new contact. I must sign it immediately!”

Now the coach played his master stroke. After a startled moment, the coach stood up and carefully commenced to unbutton and remove his shirt. The room was silent.

Next he took off his shoes, then his belt, pants and finally his undies were all removed.

He carefully and deliberately folded his clothes. Taking his time. He began to implement the counter-tactics required to negotiate against his old friend.

The GM’s shock and awe tactics had gone as saggy as his “old administrative bum”. The nude coach sat down and glared at the naked GM. They disregarded the itchy cloth covers of the chairs, that were scratching both their nether regions and they began negotiations.

That day as both men sat across a desk, earnestly in the buff, an agreement was reached that satisfied the coach, the general manager and the board. They shook hands and got dressed.

This true story was related to me a few years ago by both the coach and the GM of the Welsh club. They were laughing, like naughty schoolboys, as they regaled me with the sequence of events and what was going through each of their minds as they planned and reacted to the other’s outrageous behaviour. As you can well imagine, in good taste, I have drawn the veil of discretion over some of the more gruesome details of the rendezvous.

I know what you’re thinking. It was a series of very immature actions. Yes, it is bloody funny and can be filed away under the, ‘Only in Rugby’ category yet it smacks of the antics that were common on rugby tours in the amateur days and it would not happen today.

Or would it?

Now the English clubs in their negotiations with ERC for a new Heineken Cup contract, have adopted the GM’s tactics. They have tried the shock and awe tactics to threaten the ERC. They have “nuded up”, in the hope of rattling the ERC negotiations. Signing alternative TV contracts, threatening non-participation and negotiating through the media are high-risk tactics. The English clubs are naked and it is not a pretty sight.

What could be extremely dangerous in the English clubs approach is if the other party calls their bluff and also “nudes up”.

Make no mistake, the English clubs need the Heineken Cup. They need the revenue with a naked desperation. The French clubs can survive financially with the massive crowds attracted in the Top 14 but not the English. Take away the six paydays that the Heineken Cup deliver and many of the English clubs are in trouble.

Their negotiating tactics have left little room for manoeuvre. If the ERC calls their bluff and excludes them from the competition they are in real trouble. What will all the English punters be doing on Heineken Cup weekends, even if the English are out of the Heineken? Watching the Heineken Cup on the television, via the ERC TV deal, because the Heineken Cup is the premier competition in club rugby.

The English clubs need to negotiate with increased care, maturity and wisdom.

Today they are negotiating naked and could be caught, not only with their pants down, but with no pants at all.

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