Cash in on conversion

THE SWITCH to all-professional rugby looks set to convert the amateur sport into fresh opportunities for legal firms.

However, authorities believe there will be no immediate windfall from the corporate world which has transformed other sports into lucrative growth areas for lawyers.

Instead, sources predict a slow move towards big business with the only obvious rewards coming from staff seeking advice on contractual matters.

Professionalism was embraced last weekend when the International Rugby Football Board announced that players can be paid at all levels.

Their decision opens the way to transfers, player contracts and win bonuses.

The move seems certain to attract sponsorship cash and payment for broadcasting rights.

In football, such cash injections have elevated the role of lawyers to oversee the details of big money transactions.

However, George Kirk, partner at Edwin Coe, who acts for the amateurs' Rugby Football Union, said: “It is still early days, but I expect it will be confined to the larger clubs.

“I would be sceptical about there being a large rush of business.”

Adrian Barr-Smith, head of Denton Hall's sports group, said: “There is not going to be a lot of change unless there is extra money generated. There are more people going to be scrapping over what money there is.”

The prospects are complicated by the fact that there is already a professional game which has caught the eye of big promoters.

Chris Caisley, partner at Walker Morris, who acts for the professionals' Rugby Football League, said: “In terms of sponsorship opportunities they have got a head start on the boys from Rugby Union.”

Barr-Smith said there was likely to be more work, but a boom would require massive spending to turn the game into an attractive commercial prospect. Even then, there were likely to be other snags.

However, Caisley said: “Where you will see perhaps the greatest increase in activity is in player management and contractual negotiations on behalf of players.”