This article looks at the salaries of Ulster rugby players.
It’s important to acknowledge that player salaries are private contracts. The province or the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) don’t publish the details.
However, Irish (and Northern Ireland) rugby is a small circle. It’s not too hard to gather numbers from good sources.
How Do Ulster Rugby Players Get Paid?
Let’s start by taking a look at how the Ulster players are paid. It’s not just through monthly wages from the province.
Their full salary comes from different streams of income:
- Monthly club wages
- Bonuses for match wins
- Image licensing
- Brand deals and endorsements
- Playing at international level
- Playing for the British & Irish Lions
Who Pays The Ulster Players?
Ulster Rugby pays the monthly wages and bonuses for most players in the squad.
A small number of star players are contracted directly to the IRFU. If you’re wondering how that works, check out our article on who owns Ulster Rugby.
These contracts are significantly higher than provincial contracts. I’ll get into the numbers later.
Ulster has two players on a central contract: Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale.
An even smaller number of top earners have part of their salaries paid by third parties who want to support the province. This also has to be approved by the IRFU.
South African back row Duane Vermeulen was reported by French media to be earning €600K in the Top 14.
He reportedly took a pay drop of about 10-15% when moving to Ulster.
But Ulster Rugby isn’t footing the full bill for their latest South African star. It’s thought that the salary includes third-party support.
Sponsorships And Image Deals
Image rights are paid by third parties who want to use player photos in their advertising.
You’ll have seen some players featured in advertising with huge brands like sporting retailers.
But plenty of players are from small towns around the province. If you drive through Ulster, you’ll see images of local players in local advertising.
Of course, this brings in smaller amounts of income.
What Is The Average Salary Of A Ulster Player?
We’ll provide sterling here and then a summary with euros.
The average salary for Ulster Rugby players is about £71K for senior players who don’t also play internationally. The most senior non-internationals earn up to £100K.
Young players in their first year on a full contract earn about £33K.
Academy players earn about £7-10K.
These are average salaries but the star players are on significantly higher amounts, as I show in the next section.
As I mentioned in an earlier section, the well-known senior players can also garner endorsements and image licensing from third-party brands.
That can top up annual earnings by twenty to thirty thousand.
Summary in Euros
How Have Covid Restrictions Impacted Salaries?
The 2020/21 domestic season was shortened due to Covid restrictions. Match attendances were also curtailed.
TV revenue was reduced due to fewer matches. The drop in gate receipts also hit the income of the provinces.
Ulster players agreed to take pay cuts ranging from 20 to 40 percent.
The cuts only applied to players making over €25K. That makes academy players exempt. The higher earners took the top 40% cut.
This article uses the averages and reported salaries of more normal times.
You can mentally reduce the figures in this article in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.
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Who Are The Highest Paid Ulster Players?
We can assume that South African marquee player Duane Vermeulen is the highest-paid player at the province. We estimate that he earns at least £450K/
In addition, two Ulster players were given top contracts by the IRFU: lock Iain Henderson and winger Jacob Stockdale.
Henderson and Stockdale are well above the top squad range of £100K. We can expect Stockdale to be on at least £250K.
Henderson is reputedly the highest-earning Irish player at Ulster. His IRFU central contract is reputedly worth about £320K.
Other players with higher than average salaries
Given that the senior salary range goes up to about €120K, which players are at the higher levels?
Esportif publishes statistics for which positions earn the most in the PRO 14 (now the URC). Here’s the top-to-bottom list:
- #1 outhalf
- #2 locks
- #3 tight head prop
- #4 fullback
- #5 wings
- #6 blind side flanker
- #7 number eight
- #8 scrum half
- #9 outside center
- #10 inside center
- #11 loose head prop
- #12 openside flanker
- #13 hooker
We’ve already seen that lock Henderson and winger Stockdale are higher earners.
Interestingly, scrum-half John Cooney and center Stuart McCloskey play in positions that tend on average to be on lower wages.
But sources say that these guys buck that trend and are at the higher end in Ulster.
Does Ulster Have A Salary Cap?
You may have heard of salary caps in English and French clubs.
There isn’t a similar concept in Ireland. This is due to how rugby is organized here.
I’ll summarize the situation by saying that all Ulster contracts must be approved by the IRFU. This includes bringing in star overseas players.
The IRFU doesn’t allow the provinces to compete for Irish players by offering higher salaries.
That means there isn’t the kind of club pay wars that happened in the England Premiership before the clubs agreed to a salary cap.
How Much Do Ulster Players Get For Playing For Ireland?
Check out our article on how much Ireland rugby players earn for international rugby.
I’ll summarize here to say that match fees are about £7,500 (€9K).
There are also significantly higher win bonuses for winning international tournaments.
How Much Do Ulster British And Irish Lions Make?
The tour that comes around every four years is a good bump to a player’s salary that year. The 2021 tour paid £75K to the squad members.
One Ulster player got a top-up from the Lions in South Africa: Iain Henderson.
If the Lions had won the 2021 series in South Africa, the excellent lock would have received a £10,000 bonus. Unfortunately, he came home without the extras!