13th January 2018, 15:12 | steve_mascord

WE GOT ISSUES: Wigan's disarming honesty on the salary cap

WE GOT ISSUES: Wigan's disarming honesty on the salary cap

By Steve Mascord

A LOT OF people don’t like the salary cap.

One of the big reservations is that it’s allegedly a restraint of trade. While American sports have an almost socialist system of spreading talent, with the ‘cap combined with a draft and things like “luxury taxes” for big spending clubs, the British tradition is pretty much a capitalist free-for-all.

A lot has to do with the demography, geography and history of the two countries. England started out as a bunch of settlements which evolved, some into giant cities, while others remained towns and villages.

Pretty much the entire country, save a few islands, is reachable by road. In rugby league or soccer, the idea is that any one of those cities, towns or villages can play at Wembley if they can attract the right investment and therefore the right players.

(Of course, centuries on from the advent of organised leagues, the reality is somewhat different).

America, by comparison, was settled more recently and deliberately by Europeans. The vast distances mean putting a tiny town or suburb in a national league would send them broke just getting to an away game, before they even thought about employing professional athletes.

In America, by necessity, there must be a division between bigtime pro sports clubs and local amateurs. Pretending they all start equal just doesn’t wash. Air travel is much cheaper than it used to be but in the beginning, football, baseball and ice hockey stars embarked every second week on journeys that were, for their fans, once-in-a-lifetime holidays.

That cost money.

This raises questions as to whether rugby league in Britain actually has more in common with American sport than the traditional British model, given its resources. For one, it actually has a team in North America, with one or two more reportedly on the way!

Tomkins returned to Wigan from the NRL in 2016

Williams led Betfred Super League in assists during the 2017 season

But the other reason fans dislike the salary cap is the lack of transparency.

We are expected to follow what is essentially a game of Monopoly but we can never see the board. In the NRL, the groundswell is growing for players’ wages to be published, as they are in the US. Australia scrum-half Cooper Cronk signing with already-well-healed Sydney Roosters has led to cynicism from the terraces.

But We Got Issues would suggest that more people would trust the cap if more clubs were as honest as Wigan.

Executive director Kris Radlinski’s interview with the Wigan Observer this week was disarming in its frankness, including a blunt and transparent assessment of the club’s salary cap position.

Colleague Phil Wilkinson asked Radlinski how much money the Warriors would be spending this year.

“In excess of £2.2 million,” he answered, I’d imagine without hesitation.

“Some clubs don’t even spend up to the cap limit and, with the dispensations available, we’re going well above the £1.9 million.

“We’ve got two marquee players (George Williams and Sam Tomkins), we’re allowed an extra £100,000 for producing so many club-trained players, there’s a £15,000 dispensation for player welfare. Looking after the cap is like a fulltime job and some players are earning good money.

“If I sat down with some fans, with pens and paper, and asked them to go through our squad and make it work, I think some would be 20, maybe 30 grand lower in their estimations of some players. It’s a big challenge.

“We’re all fishing in the same pond and at the same time, we’ve got the NRL clubs offering more and more money.

“Two or three years ago you were talking about the first million dollar player in the NRL – I don’t think they’re far off having $2 million players. With third party sponsorship, they’re earning a lot.

“The biggest stars in the NRL are probably earning as some of our clubs’ entire salary cap. That’s a massive challenge we’re up against.

“If we take Jermaine McGillvary, who was an England star in the World Cup, his Australian counterpart, Valentine Holmes, is earning six times the amount as Jermaine.”

The other 27 Super League and NRL clubs should take note from Radlinski's comments. Fans are not customers, they're constituents.

If you don't keep them informed, they'll vote you out.