The club is on the brink of financial collapse

The survival of Melbourne Rebels has been thrust even further into jeopardy after a report emerged from Australia that ten administrative staff members, including Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson, have been made redundant.

Little over a week out from the start of the new Super Rugby season, Melbourne news outlet The Age revealed that administrators PWC have already begun terminating the employment of staff members, although that excludes players.

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Rebels CEO let go in latest blow

A small number of staff members, including head coach Kevin Foote, have been retained on four-month contracts that run until the end of the season but the club’s survival beyond that is in doubt.

Speaking to the Australian Associated Press, Foote admitted the loss of Stephenson, who started as Rebels as the CEO in 2017, made the gravity of the situation hit home.

“We were told things would remain as they are for the 2024 season and then to see Baden walk out of the building was very hard-hitting,” Foote said. “He’s such a good man and he does so much for us so that was hard, and then with the rest of the staff as well but that’s the reality that we’re in.

“I’m very grateful they kept the high-performance staff together so that we can put a good product up, but when you sign those four-month contracts you also know that it’s pretty real.”

It comes after the club went into voluntary administration earlier this month amid crippling debt. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in January the Rebels owed in the region of $10 million but the latest figure is believed to be as much as double that.

A large portion of the Rebels’ debt is owed to the Australian Taxation Office, while board members and suppliers are also among those who are due millions.

Around $1m is also due in fees for the use of AAMI Park Stadium, which is managed by the state government’s Melbourne & Olympics Parks Trust.

The Rebels have previously received financial aid from the state government in 2017. As part of the $20m deal with Rugby Australia for the Bledisloe Cup and 2025 British & Irish Lions Tour over a period between eight and ten years, the Melbourne club were to be retained in the Super Rugby competition but there is no guarantee the support will extend beyond this season.

Waugh refused to be drawn on the Rebels’ financial strife during the Super Rugby Pacific (SRP) launch on Wednesday, but SRP chairman Kevin Malloy hinted that the impending collapse of the Melbourne club could accelerate plans to restructure.

Malloy said: “We feel really engaged and involved in understanding exactly what Rugby Australia are working through. And part of that conversation is obviously starting to think about the future, but I think we’ve signalled well in advance of this tournament that we’re doing that anyway.

“Logically 2026 has been the time frame with media rights cycles and that sort of thing. So [that’s when] we would think about if there would be any material change in the competition … clearly what’s happened with the Rebels has just brought that conversation forward slightly.”

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