Contrary to what some may think, the Top 14 salary cap is rigorously policed and hefty punishments await those who transgress. Nonetheless, that doesn't prevent some French clubs finding innovative ways to reward their very best players. Gavin Mortimer reports.
Among the less interesting pages on the official France Federation website is one entitled ‘DNACG’. I don’t recommend a visit, not unless you’re an insomniac. Let me explain. DNACG stands for Direction Nationale d’Aide et de Contrôle de Gestion and, as one French newspaper recently put it, it’s the “financial gendarme of professional rugby”. In other words, the DNACG’s job is to police the finances of the 30 professional French clubs (the Top 14 and the 16 clubs that comprise the Pro D2). The DNACG is managed by both the FFR and the LNR but answers ultimately to the former.
Why is this relevant? To allay suspicions in some quarters that French clubs have a somewhat laissez-aller attitude when it comes to finance, in particular staying within the €10m salary cap.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As any ex-pat who has lived in France will tell you, the French do many things well – cheese, wine and long lunches – but possibly what they excel in most is bureaucracy. Red Tape is an art form in France, and that applies to their rugby.
The DNACG’s code of practice, as published on the LNR’s website, runs to 24 pages and contains enough clauses and articles to bore all but the most stoic to tears. To cut a long story short: the DNACG has the power to scrutinise the accounts of all 30 clubs whenever it sees fit, and punish accordingly with fines up to a maximum of €2m. And they do.
The DNACG isn’t a toothless body. If it sees financial irregularities it will act. Just ask Grenoble, Bourgoin and Montauban, all of whom have been relegated from the Top 14 in the last decade as punishment for failing to balance their books.
More recently, in the summer of 2013, the DNACG expelled Carcassonne from Pro D2 to Federale 1 (although the club was later reinstated by the FFR after they raised sufficient funds) and also suspended the contracts of four Biarritz and five Perpignan players until they were satisfied the clubs had the finances to fund them. Last season the DNACG dished out heavy fines to Perpignan, Albi, Beziers and Carcassonne and also threatened them with a points reduction if they didn’t get their accounts in order.
“The DNACG has a great deal of power,” explains Jerome Riondet, the former Harlequins and Grenoble three-quarter, and now a rugby consultant for beIN Sports. “Before each season the clubs present their provisional budgets to the DNACG. Let’s say a club gives itself a €20m budget based on money from TV rights and anticipated income from sponsors and also a contribution from the regional council. The TV rights money is the only guaranteed income so if for whatever reason the money from the sponsors and regional council doesn’t all come through there will be a discrepancy in their accounts from their initial budget. If that happens, the DNACG – who can check a club’s budget at any time during a season – will punish them.”
It’s a similar story with the salary cap. Snide comments from across the Channel, in England, that the French ignore the €10m cap imposed by the LNR are dismissed by Riondet. “The clubs definitely respect the cap,” he says.
But while the clubs must stay within the law, there’s nothing that says they can’t show a little innovation. Midi Olympique reported last month that Dan Carter’s salary when he joins Racing Metro after the World Cup will be around €500,000; but on top of that it is alleged the All Blacks fly-half will receive a similar sum from his image rights including an estimated €300,000 from the operating company of Arena 92, Racing’s new home from 2016 that will also host concerts and business conferences.
It’s a strategy long employed by Mourad Boudjellal, the canny president of Toulon, who has made no secret of the fact the club has been imaginative in ensuring its top players receive the sort of sums they deserve for their talent. In an interview last season he explained that Toulon’s total wage bill was €8.55m – well within the €10m salary cap – but that nonetheless a star such as Jonny Wilkinson earned income on top of his salary.
“We’ve created with him a commercial enterprise of products branded ‘10’,” said Boudjellal. “This enterprise, based in France, generates a real turnover on the back of the sales of hats, t-shirts, polo (shirts), etc…should the proceeds from these sales be included in calculating the player’s salary? I don’t believe so.”
Boudjellal – who no longer puts his own money into the club – also dismissed as “fantasy” the rumour that some of the foreign players at Toulon had money paid into bank accounts in Jersey, telling Midi Olympique: “The chief of the DNACG spent two days in Toulon and had nothing to say about our (financial) management.”
Jerome Riondet believes Toulon’s business model, which is based on a wide network of sponsors and commercial partners, is the most stable of all Top 14 clubs. That’s not what many wish to hear, those who regard Toulon as rugby’s bête noire. But doesn’t success often breed envy?