Ian Lenagan has put £500,000 into Wigan Warriors during coronavirus crisis

Ian Lenagan has revealed put £500,000 of his own money into Wigan to help the club through the coronavirus crisis.
Ian Lenagan has written to Wigan fansIan Lenagan has written to Wigan fans
Ian Lenagan has written to Wigan fans

The club chairman has written to Wigan season ticket holders to outline when the season may return, in what form – and ask for their help as he looks towards a “frightening” future for the sport.

He thanked staff and players for taking significant pay cuts since the season has been halted, saying their sacrifices has secured the club’s survival for next year – and also revealed he injected half-a-million pounds of his own money for “cash-flow survival” in April.

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In a wide-ranging letter released last night, Lenagan – who has been at the helm of his hometown club since the end of 2007 – says he expects games to return behind-closed-doors in August but hopes to “get our players back playing in front of fans as soon as practically possible and completing the season.”

This is his full letter:

Dear Wigan Member/Season-Ticket Holder, I hope that you are keeping safe and healthy during these troubling times.

It is hard to believe that just a couple of short months ago, we were cheering and shouting at a Wigan team – playing in yellow – losing to Salford after a very promising start to the season.

Even though that was a painful night, I’m sure we would all give anything to get back there now.

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Like you all, I’ve been through a range of emotions reading, watching and experiencing some tremendously sad stories – a friend of mine whose mother was taken into hospital and died suddenly, and a close work colleague in Wigan whose husband was a respected local headmaster and passed away last month.

I am sure many Wigan supporters have experienced first-hand or through friends similar unexpectedly traumatic times.

Fortunately, these occur alongside real acts of inspiration – our own Willie Isa volunteering for the NHS for example – and I’m sure we all felt the same way about the achievements of Captain Tom. He could have played for Wigan – what a Warrior!

During this time it has been daunting for me to be responsible for the survival of Wigan Rugby League Club – one of the loves of my life – and it is only because of the effort, will and sacrifices of everyone involved that we have that chance to get beyond this period.

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All players and the majority of staff are on furlough leave and have agreed to significant pay cuts for 2020. This itself makes a significant contribution to the future of the club. For our players who have a short career, it’s a wonderful gesture showing they fully realise the severity of the situation.

The 10 non-furloughed directors and staff have also taken salary cuts and have worked hard and long to get Wigan through this first period.

With some difficulty I have provided a further £500,000 in April for cash-flow survival. Our main focus has been to secure the future of the club and to protect the employment of our people.

Only a handful of business-critical people – 10 out of 172 – have remained in position to ensure the club can operate.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank those people who have gone above and beyond, working incredibly long days in an attempt to navigate these tricky times.

I’d also pay tribute to our marketing and communication team who have done a wonderful job trying to keep our fans engaged, entertained and loyal.

The RFL did an excellent job with Super League’s detailed input, in securing a £16million loan from the government and, although it’s very welcome and provides some reassurance, we need to fully understand the longer-term implications for our club and approach the gesture with caution.

It is not a bailout. It is a loan which will need to be paid back, starting in 2021, from already depleted revenues. A condition of the loan is that it cannot be used to top-up people’s wages. It has to be used to make us Fit for Future.

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The loan offer is an indication of the impact that rugby league has on its local communities. The annual economic impact of the English clubs and central events is estimated at more than £141million.

The social impact of the sport of rugby league on its players, coaches and volunteers is estimated at more than £185million. We are very proud of the publicly-recognised values, characteristics and contributions of Rugby League people – never more shown than in Wigan.

In terms of returning to play, we are led by the government and are currently digesting Stages 2 and 3 of the Elite Sport return-to-training-and-play guidance. We will be developing risk assessments at our training centre ensuring all levels of bio security are considered. We do not anticipate we will be playing games (behind closed doors) before August. Before then but subject to health statistics, we will be finalising plans to make our stadium Covid-secure. With this in place, we hope to get our players back playing in front of fans as soon as practically possible and completing the season.

Since March we have worked tirelessly to protect the club but we are not in the clear yet. The central distribution from Super League and the government furlough scheme is helping us month by month – and we have forecasted how we will reach the end of 2020 – but the knock-on effect for 2021 is still unknown and frightening. Without match-day revenues, sponsorship, events, advertising, memberships and retail we don’t have a business. That is the harsh reality.

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The sacrifices of everyone at Wigan Rugby League Club has ensured we will all still be here in 2021. I have been deeply moved by the letters of support I have received from fans asking us to keep their season ticket money for 2020 and asking us to just make sure we are back up and running in 2021.

It has been amazing reading what their club means to them. They are sharing the burden this uncertainty is causing and I’m humbled by their generosity.

I shouldn’t have expected anything else of Wigan fans, but I am also very conscious that this pandemic will have affected many of our fans’ lives in different ways. Some may have lost relatives, some may have lost jobs and we understand that, for some, priorities may have changed. We are sympathetic to these realities of life because it is happening to all of us at the club too.

We have always been proud of our strategic planning. Short, medium-term and long-term succession planning has allowed Wigan to be successful for a very long period of time. But in these times of uncertainty, even this proactive thinking itself is under threat.

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It is hard because, like you, we don’t know exactly what the future holds.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’d like to ask you to share some of that burden too.

Over the coming weeks, our team will be contacting you about your 2020 memberships with some options to consider. Although we don’t know the details yet, it is almost certain you will lose games on your season ticket. In order to play rugby league again, to save the season and to protect the income from the Sky broadcast contract, some games will need to be played behind closed doors. A proportion may not be played.

Should anybody want to talk to me personally, an e-mail address where you can leave your contact details will be set up and I or Kris Radlinski will call you back to discuss it. Now, more than ever, we need to pull together to get through this hardship that we’re all suffering.

Many thanks

Ian Lenagan, Chairman, Wigan Rugby League Club Ltd