CLUBS are fearing for their futures after the coronavirus outbreak wiped out many of their key sources of funding, writes JAMES ROBERTS.

Last Friday, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) cancelled the rest of the 2019/20 season for every competition below the Gallagher Premiership and promised to support clubs feeling the pinch.

But the lost matches and social distancing advice introduced by the government mean teams across the country will miss out on vital income streams, including matchday revenue and clubhouse hire.

The pandemic had already caused Banbury Bulls to cancel a Minis Festival, which last year earned them thousands of pounds.

With matchday bar sales and private bookings comprising a significant chunk of the South West 1 East side’s revenue, media manager Alex Inch is expecting a tough few months ahead.

“We’ve had to make some quite serious calls anyway, because money’s getting tighter,” he said.

“You budget for the year and you just can’t prepare for something like this.

“The big issue is cashflow. Membership and sponsorship comes in at the beginning of the season, but if you cut off money you don’t know the effect until it’s happened.”

In a statement, the RFU said it was working through a “range of potential financial scenarios” to support clubs in need.

But the national governing body admitted that what was already set to be a loss-making year, due to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and England hosting only two Six Nations games, would now be “considerably” worse.

The RFU is hoping to support clubs through hardship funds and business rates relief, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered retailers a

one-year rates holiday to help them deal with the crisis.

Inch added: “The government say they’re going to support community football clubs, so there has to be something for rugby clubs as well.

“They are the heartbeat of a lot of towns and if you lose them the impact is massive.”

Several clubs had already lost money-making initiatives before the season was cancelled, with Southern Counties North leaders Witney among those hit.

Chairman Robert Fisk is expecting to scrap a host of events, including awards dinners and parties.

He admitted the club were already making plans to help ease the burden, but fears the worst due to knock-on effects from the crisis.

He said: “The enforced break and advice from the government to stay away from pubs will have the potential to put clubs out of business.

“With no income coming in, we are looking at cost savings.

“Food and drink stocks will be minimised and plans for clubhouse improvements will be put on hold.

“The big fear is being able to continue next season, as sponsors will also be hit hard and vital sponsorship may not be forthcoming.”

Henley Hawks have also been proactive, mapping out a plan of action to get them to the end of June.

The National League 2 South outfit can normally rely on regular income from hiring out their clubhouse and all-weather facilities.

Director of playing administration Aubrey Doran says Henley are trying to “think outside the box”.

“Our aim is to get through to the end of June and as things change we’ll react to that,” he said.

“It’s about the long-term sustainability of the club.”

The club have also drastically scaled back operations and are keeping fixed costs to a minimum.

It includes their players and coaches agreeing to give up some, or even all, of their payments due on the remainder of their contracts this season.

Chairman Chris Nixon said: “This wonderful gesture will help the viability of the club significantly over the coming weeks.”

For Southern Counties North side Bicester, the long term is arguably the most pressing problem.

The club’s income streams are limited to membership and sponsorship, as they do not own their Oxford Road home or the minis and juniors site in Chesterton.

The fate of both bases is up in the air, with Bicester leaving Oxford Road next season and Chesterton’s future uncertain.

This has already seen sponsorship fall and director Craig Morley is expecting continued issues even after the current crisis is over.

He said: “We face continued uncertainty over our future even after this pandemic is over.

“The club’s mission is to secure a single, permanent home, with as much certainty over income and expenditure for our members so that Bicester Rugby Club can continue to grow the game in our community.”