RSPBA Writes to All Bands Regarding 2024 Major Championships and the Editor Responds

A letter to all bands issued yesterday by Mr Kevin Reilly, Chairman of the RSPBA, confirms that so far only two major championships have been secured for the 2024 pipe band competition season. The letter follows a Board of Directors meeting last weekend.

The letter reads: To the members of the RSPBA….I said I would get a message to you as soon as it became clearer to the Board of Directors the situation regarding Major Championships in the 2024 season.

At this moment in time, I can only confirm that we have the Scottish Championships at Levengrove Park, Dumbarton, on the 27th of July 2024, and the World Pipe Band Championships at Glasgow Green, Glasgow, on the 16th and 17th of August 2024.

I can imagine the disappointment that this will bring to many of our outstanding bands who support the RSPBA year on year.  

It is very disappointing to the Board of Directors who have worked tirelessly to secure Major Championships. For the last two years we have been working with many local authorities and private entities, not only in Scotland but England, Ireland, and Eire.

MacRaeBanner ’19
Ayrshire Bagpipes Nov 2020
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silver chanter banner 2024

As you are aware, many local authorities are finding the ‘money’ situation as difficult as everyone else and they tell us they don’t have the disposable income to commit for 2024.  

Many of the meetings we have had are looking towards local authorities hosting Major Championships in 2025/6 and onwards.  We will continue to be involved in these discussions. One local authority has indicated they won’t be able to tell us until January if they intend hosting a 2024 major championship.

The Board of Directors have a group in place to look at some alternatives for the 2024 season, more information will be distributed when I have it. All the very best for 2024 season have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Kevin Reilly, Chairman.

The Editor Responds…

We will have more on this story tomorrow, but for now I am sure this confirmation will send a shiver down the backs of all pipe band members and enthusiasts.

The whole movement seems to be facing an existential crisis. Without major championships there is no competitive pipe band world. With only two, standards will inevitably fall. Interest will drop off.

Competition is the life blood of pipe banding, and pipe bands are the lifeblood of the RSPBA. Minor contests are already on their knees. The bands themselves are somewhat to blame for this. They simply don’t support them in sufficient numbers.

And don’t talk to me about the costs of getting there. Fifty plus years ago and more we all struggled to the likes of Lesmahagow and Dunblane and Markinch with pieces our mammy made for us and the hope of a cup of tea from the band primus stove.

We did it because we wanted to play, to test ourselves against our fellow bandsmen. We loved the sound, the excitement, the possibility of success and, when we were older, the beer tent joshing.

It didn’t matter that it cost us money or that prizes went unreported. The minors fed the majors, the majors the crowds, the crowds the sponsors, the sponsors the RSPBA.

Not enough bands support the minors

We face a shocking state of affairs and it is not only the Association that is to blame. Our local authorities here in Scotland have had their budgets slashed in real terms over the past several years by the Scottish Government. Whatever your politics, that is a fact. Schools and social services have first call on available cash.

It is hard to convince nervous councillors that Majors make money, last year’s Europeans at Aberdeen included, this event now subject to a worthy recall petition.

If local authorities cannot be persuaded to take a punt on a pipe band championship then we need to change our thinking completely, to go elsewhere. A different, sustainable model, must be found.

Isn’t it ironic in this age of social media, when pipe band people spend hours on their phones every day messaging millions of words on the latest gossip, when performances are beamed around the world in a whizz, that here we are unable to fulfil the basic, non-virtual need of getting brogues on the grass?

Is this the way pipe bands are going – a massive online juggernaut but with very little happening in the real world? What a profoundly troubling situation.

10 thoughts on “RSPBA Writes to All Bands Regarding 2024 Major Championships and the Editor Responds

  1. This is only my perception of this issue so please don’t get upset. I agree with most of the comments already made. I attended the NI branch AGM recently in Cookstown. The CEO of the RSPBA read a letter on behalf of Mr Reilly he also spoke about the real difficulties of getting sponsorship for the remaining three majors in 2024. He stated that the RSPBA were thinking outside the box regarding sponsorship. He stated that they would be continuing to have conversations with five entities not all of whom were local authorities. For obvious reasons he did not name these entities. He said he was still reasonably optimistic regarding the outcome. Unless this has changed dramatically perhaps we should give them the space to work this out and await the outcome. I would also like to say that the NI branch is in a very good place financially and if this doesn’t work out should be giving consideration to running the major in Lurgan themselves. I would also say that the bands themselves would have to give a commitment to attend which historically they have not. This may be understandable because of travel costs but nevertheless needs to be addressed. Unfortunately money is extremely tight particularly for bands applying for funding and the lack of sponsorship is only an extension of this.

  2. For G1 , the Friday performances could count as a separate championship.
    Decide the Worlds on the Saturday.
    Not a bad opportunity to have all G1 bands compete in 2 majors in the same year?

  3. As a suggestion. Maybe the Gr 1 bands should talk to one another and collaborate and agree which of the ‘minors’ they’ll enter and post the details on social media. I’m sure this would encourage increased entries in other grades. —- result could be an ‘unofficial’ Championship ?

  4. Rainy days are a real thing, in all walks of life and this statement confirms 2024 as the Pipe Band World ‘Rainy Day’. The association’s bank balances are readily available to view. One just wonders under what circumstances are these available funds actually viewed as being required to plug the rain day (ie the association funding its own major and surely would only cut a small loss when netted against all the vendor, program, entry fee and gate receipts on the day). If the ‘panic button’ to be hit in order to release funds for this very gloomy 2024 and the potential longer term neagtuve impacts , it must only in an armagedon situation that these funds are actually accessed to directly help and support competing bands and the events that drive and maintain them all as live and breathing creatures.

  5. The writing was on the wall since 2020 pandemic, and further red flags raised last year with only 4 majors!

    Any major business and moderately intelligent individual running an organisation such as the RSPBA would have seen this and should have had various viable alternative models ready to roll, whether splitting a major into two halfs and holding it over two days at two different venues for half the fee, either Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend or on two consecutive Saturdays.

    Three branch championships could be expanded and be given major status, perhaps Lothian & Border, N.I. or all Irelands.

    Alternatively (assuming the current charge levied by the RSPBA indicates it is competitive and allows a promoter to make a profit) the association could run their own championship by hiring a park and running the whole show! Sadly the latter may be a major problem, in so much as the unwillingness of promoters to step forward and bid indicates that the current model is financially unviable.

    A quick look at the balance sheet of the RSPBA shows that a major costs the promoter between £70k – £80k, add to this security costs, licencing, park layout, ticket printing, programme design and print etc. and that’s a lot of burger van ground rent, programme advertising and ticket sales or in other words it’s virtually impossible to run an event and break even, never mind make a profit!

    On the subject of costs perhaps someone can explain why the RSPBA expenditure for a major is in excess of £70k with with prize money being around (ball park) £16k in total what makes up the other £60k, surely not judging fees and traveling expenses?

    The editor makes a great point regarding a packed lunch being taken in his distant youth, like many, as a spectator these days, I’ve carried on this tradition and as eluded to in the article, when playing, always found a way to get to the contest whether band bus or car sharing, often playing Saturday and Sunday in the same weekend, infact i remember playing Friday night, Saturday Morning Galaday, off to Lesmahagow in the afternoon to compete then a Sunday church parade all to raise funds and allow busses to be procured for contests. I also remember playing anything up to 18 contests in one year and this was a grade one band! How many grade one players would do this today?

    To summarise, the writing has been on the wall for several years, those in charge have proven to be inadequate leaders and the bands have as much to blame by not holding them to account on many issues and by their non attendance at branch meetings and AGMs.

    (Please note still no public comment on the Nat Russell issue which as a paying customer makes me wonder why I am treated in contempt by the RSPBA)

  6. Just a thought – maybe the British Championships could be held somewhere in England, like Newcastle, Carlisle, Manchester etc. (?) I recall attending the Worlds when it was held at Wollaton Park in Nottingham back in 1979: I had joined B.Cal. the year before, and we stayed at a very pleasant hotel there.

    1. Blackpool! Huge park, plenty accomodation and entertainment for those staying over, as most probably would. Town also has a large base of “Scottish immigrants” and a forward thinking council!

  7. May I add to your list of minors? I am thinking about Bridge of Allan, Dunbar, Gourock, Rothesay, Bearsden, Balloch and the end of season Grade 1 party at Pitlochry. Bands I played in were away many Saturdays in the summer, not just 5. We enjoyed it too, even when we were being unsuccessful.

    Now I am back to my old hobby horse of Dunoon. Is the RSPBA talking to the Cowal Gathering committee? Let’s have a leak somebody to let us know!

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