A 10-team Premiership with a reduced salary cap is being discussed by clubs, says Leicester Tigers chief executive Andrea Pinchen.
The financial demise of Wasps and Worcester has prompted their rivals to look at the league’s overall health.
A further reduction of clubs from the 11 that remain and sticking to the £5m salary cap, which is to rise to £6.4m, are being debated by club chiefs.
“There is no big secret about it,” Pinchen said.
“All the CEO’s of the Premiership clubs are on a WhatsApp group. Everyone just says what they think.
“Everyone is like ‘yeah, we agree that 10 is the way to go, as long as it’s not me’.
“How that will work when we are sitting at 11 teams, I don’t know?
“There is no hidden agenda. They want what is right for the sport.”
Rob Baxter, Exeter’s Premiership and European Champions Cup-winning director of rugby, has previously said a 10-team Premiership could be the best way to ensure England’s top tier thrives in the future.
Pinchen said increased investment in the second-tier Championship “would have to be looked at” if the make-up of the Premiership was to be changed.
‘Cap increase not right for league’
The size of the salary cap in a league in which clubs have reportedly amassed combined debts of £300m over the past six years has split opinions among owners and officials.
Clubs had unanimously agreed to cut the salary cap by £1.4m, to £5m, in the summer of 2020 in response to the finance fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
The cap is set to return to £6.4m in 2024.
However, the limit to spending that clubs are working towards at the moment is having an impact, with Exeter’s England winger Jack Nowell the latest star to be linked with a lucrative move away because the Devon side are struggling to offer him an acceptable deal.
Pinchen says Premiership title holders Leicester – who were last season punished for historical spending breaches – are “fundamentally” against the rise, but says they will spend up to the limit to remain competitive.
She adds that it is something that needs to be “re-looked at”.
“Can I understand a very wealthy club wanting to get that stardust sprinkled in, as they see it, and increase the cap? Yes, I can,” Pinchen said.
“Personally I don’t think that is right for the game as we sit here now today.
“In any industry, if you looked across the board and everyone was losing a lot of money and had lots of debt to pay back, and you were then increasing the ability to spend – and that everyone will feel a certain pressure to spend if you want to remain competitive and recruit people who want to win and make you successful – then people would look at you as if there was something slightly wrong.”
While Pinchen says that all clubs do not agree on the cap, she adds they are all “more aligned now” after enduring a difficult period through Covid together.
During the pandemic clubs took on loans from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to help them stay afloat.
Both Worcester and Wasps went into administration with those debts failing to be met, while Exeter Chiefs sold a stake in a hotel it owns to help pay it off.
Tigers’ first repayment is due in March, with Pinchen saying payments have “been mapped out” by the club.
She says sustainability is something Tigers – who reported an operating loss of £1.9m for last season – are working towards and says fresh investment would be welcome.
The club had been put up for sale in June 2019, but a lack of suitable investors saw the process ended after less than a year.
“You have to be open to look at whatever opportunities are out there,” she said.
“If it is right for the club, then fine and we will look at it and start to dig a little bit deeper, but that is the critical thing – it has to be right for the club long term.”