JERSEY manufacturers Puma paid the IRFU €11.5m to extricate themselves from their sponsorship deal last year, the union's accounts have revealed.
But news that only a little over a third of the sales target of five and 10-year tickets for the Aviva Stadium has been met has left honorary treasurer Tom Grace "disappointed" and he warned at the annual council meeting that the economic climate continued to make life difficult for the sport.
Without the Puma pay-off, which was described as an "exceptional item" in the accounts published yesterday, the IRFU's surplus was €3.4m compared to €7.8m a year ago.
Grace acknowledged that the union would now have to borrow money and have a €25m facility in place to do so until they sell the next tranche of tickets in 2020.
The union sold 1,600 tickets at €9,000 a pop for 10-year tickets and €5,500 for five-years. This raised €14m, which is massively short of the €40m the IRFU had anticipated.
The 5,000 tickets that go on sale in 2020 are among the best seats in the stadium and raised €70m in 2010.
While they will continue to fund the provinces and the national team at the same levels, chief executive Philip Browne admitted that some cost-cutting will be necessary. It was revealed that no union employee had taken a pay rise since 2009.
"We will all have to tighten our belts, but we are going to continue to operate at the levels we are at.
"We will continue to fund four professional teams and the national team and the domestic game," Browne said.
"It is business as usual, we are just going to have to borrow to fund that cash deficit over the next six years."
"I think everybody is surprised we didn't sell as many as we hoped. But that's the nature of the economy at the moment and we have to accept that."
Meanwhile, Browne hit out at the "errant nonsense" he believes has been circulated by English clubs in the media about the future of the Heineken Cup, for which a resolution has yet to be found.
"There has been some misinformation in media, some pretty errant nonsense from English clubs saying ERC are not entitled to sell the (broadcasting) rights centrally," he said.
"It is strange that they take that point of view, given that they are shareholders and had a member on the board when the decision was taken.
"It is bizarre that the PRL, having castigated the ERC for seeking the rights centrally, then went off and sold their own rights to all matches involving English teams including those in Ireland, Scotland and Wales to BT Vision without any consultation.
"There is always a possibility that we can't reach a compromise."
Browne expects to have a replacement for Puma by the end of the summer and is confident of getting "the best deal possibly available" for the next shirt sponsorship.
Longford RFC's Pat Fitzgerald was elected as union president for next season, becoming the first president from a junior club.