Super League champions demand Government support to tackle jobs challenge

Super League champions St Helens have called on the Government to tackle the issue of effectively-closed businesses being classified as open in order to prevent large-scale job losses.

The rugby league club’s chief executive Mike Rush said his business has lost out on £1m of non-matchday revenue since lockdown, a figure that is doubled by the impact of playing games behind closed doors.

St Helens is part of the Liverpool City Region and is now subject to Tier 3 restrictions. But the club’s Totally Wicked Stadium has effectively been closed to guests since March 18, missing out on weddings, parties, conferences and a Little Mix concert, and there is currently no visibility on when this might change.

Rush has written an open letter to sports minister Nigel Huddleston to make the case for support for its workforce ahead of the furlough scheme ending tomorrow.

“It’s a tough situation for everyone,” said Rush. “All we can do is fight to protect the people that work for us.

“The staff have been great. They aren’t angry at the club but they are angry they might get bounced to Universal Credit and have no income in the weeks up to Christmas.”

St Helens Rugby League Club is one of the largest private sector employers in the town and also the largest employer in its sport because it directly employs all of its off-field staff, including chefs, bar staff, and stewards.

While the rugby league season continues, albeit with no fans in attendance, the club’s events and hospitality operations are closed.

But the club can’t access the Job Support Scheme for closed businesses, meaning its staff must work – and be paid for – at least 20% of their normal hours to be eligible for Government to step in and contribute a further 62% of the unworked hours’ payment.

The closed scheme requires no contribution from employers, while the Government pays two-thirds of an employee’s wage.

“We are hoping common sense will prevail, but we are not getting any answers back at the moment,” said Rush.

“Where do we get our 20% from? I can’t sell tickets, I can’t have conferences. The only thing I can do is sell merchandise online – that can’t support hundreds of people.”

They should be preparing to welcome 7,000 people to Christmas parties, employing dozens of full and part-time staff on non-matchday events. Matchdays alone would require more than 120 staff, and even more would normally be needed for an 18,000-capacity crowd against tonight’s opponents Wigan Warriors.

Rush added: “We have a hospitality business here but we can’t even open a bar. If the Government put us on the closed scheme, we could protect all of those jobs.

“I’m trying to keep it really simple – if the Government doesn’t want to give us the money to give to them, we will have to turn them over to the Government and Universal Credit.”

Its most recent accounts, for the 2018 season, showed more than 60% of its £7.8m turnover went on wage costs for the 600 people it employed. Super League operates a salary cap of £2.1m per team, which is smaller than St Helens’ wage bill for its non-playing staff.

The impact of Covid-19 on the business of sport will be one of the key topics of the upcoming webinar by called A Game of Two halves, to find out more and register click here.