On Wednesday, the Rugby Football League held a media briefing where a series of subjects were discussed – with the most notable item on the agenda Thursday’s presentation from consortia in Ottawa and New York, bidding to introduce teams into League 1 from next season. Here is every word the RFL’s Karen Moorhouse and Ralph Rimmer said on the matter.
On the process to consider the applications of the two franchises, Moorhouse told the media: “We’ve spent a lot of time discussing how overseas clubs fit into our model in the UK. When you look at overseas clubs and what they can contribute to our objectives, the key thing is the potential – and we stress the word potential – for them to open up new broadcast markets, probably in North America when you consider Ottawa and New York. That gives us the best chance of tapping into those markets, which means we’re bringing more money into the sport and being able to invest that into our game, be it in Championship or League 1, or the community game.
“We feel it’s important to consult with Championship and League 1 clubs before moving forward with the applications, because they’re our existing members so we need to understand any concerns they have. We then factor those concerns into the decision surrounding those clubs entering the competition. The purpose of Thursday is to sit down and get the views of the clubs, and they will be included in the next steps. We’re also doing due-diligence surrounding the business plans and ownership of each club, because the budgets are exactly that: budgets. We need to know that the people putting forward these applications have the financial wherewithal to stand behind them, because there are obviously considerable costs in setting them up.
“We also need to factor in the impact on the RFL, because we’ve got our own team including match officials who need to travel out there. It’s really detailed and it needs careful, careful consideration. They will both put compelling cases forward, but it’s our job as the RFL to make sure everything is stacked up. If they say we’ve got X, Y and Z commercial deals, it’s our job to challenge that and demand proof of it, and make sure it’s backed up by owner guarantees.
“We’re in dialogue with Super League, and our analysis is the same as theirs. They’re trying to work out if additional overseas clubs are going to help them achieve their objectives, and that’s aligned with us. We’re very close to having an agreement with them in terms of extra terms and conditions about the number of overseas clubs in Super League.
“Both clubs are keen to join in 2020, and we understand if that’s going to happen, a decision would need to happen quickly. However, we know we need to not rush any decision. It would be foolhardy to jump into something without giving it analysis. There’s the meeting on Thursday, the views of that will then be fed back to the board.”
When asked if entry in 2020 is a realistic goal, Moorhouse said: “It would be very tight, given how neither club has a playing squad or anything like that. Things would need to move very quickly.”
Will they, like Toronto, not take any central funding for the remainder of this broadcast deal? Rimmer said: “Those are part of the conditions that are tied up. What we have to do is strip away the romance of it all, because clearly everyone sees New York and Ottawa and thinks they’re fantastic places, and they’d be right, but we’ve got to break down the elements of risk and benefit for the clubs.
“It’s our responsibility to work on the RFL’s objectives which benefit our members’ interests. With the Toronto case, when they first came about, we presented to the clubs together and it was virtually unanimous for that club coming in. That’s useful, because one of the conversations we had when I presented was to warn that it was a rough ride and there would be some bumps in the road. It’s not the final decision on Thursday by any stretch of the imagination, but the board will want to understand how supportive the clubs are.”
There has been talk of the RFL and Super League’s position on the situation being different, but Rimmer insisted: “I think that’s way wide of the mark. I think that out of all the points we’ve discussed, there was very little between us on that.”