Championship Focus: Adjusting to a future without Sky TV revenue is possible

Gareth Walker hears Mick Hogan’s thoughts on the sport’s future in crucial coming years

Clubs outside Super League will have to adapt to some major financial challenges next year, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.

That’s the stance of Newcastle Thunder Chairman Mick Hogan as his club and all others prepare to deal with significantly lower TV income from 2022 onwards.

It remains unclear exactly how much central funding clubs will receive next year following the recently agreed new TV deal with Super League.

But everybody accepts it will be lower, and although Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs now have the opportunity to secure their own broadcast deal, the reality is that it will not reach the levels of funding that they receive at present.

Hogan, though, is firmly in the camp that there will be opportunities in the new landscape for the sport at this level.

“Life beyond this year will affect all clubs and the players,” Hogan explains.

“There will potentially be less money around so the available amount to invest in squads will in all likelihood decrease.

“But I also think we will see some real innovation in how the clubs increase revenue.

“Rugby League clubs have always been resilient, innovative and hard working.

“Those clubs that have planned for 2022 onwards and are already adjusting their operating model will do well, but those that haven’t, perhaps not so well.

“But no one can claim it will be a surprise.

“The RFL has been consistently telling us what is coming for three years.”

Hogan has a similar train of thought on the actual TV agreement itself.

“In the short term the new Super League TV deal will cause concern,” he continues.

“It will inevitably result in a loss of central income for non-Super League clubs.

“However, again it shouldn’t come as any great surprise as all indications for the past three years have been leading to this.

“It will result in the longer term in clubs having to develop new revenue streams and boost existing ones.

“Long term for teams in any sport below the top level it isn’t healthy to rely too much on one income area, like TV monies.

“Streaming has shown that there may be a different model that can work and hopefully all clubs will put even more efforts into ticket sales, hospitality, commercial partnerships, non-match day events, community and retail.”

It’s clear that Hogan sees how the clubs must make any broadcast partnership work beyond what just the bottom line monetary figure is that it brings in.

“I do believe a financial TV deal is possible for non-Super League clubs, but it may well be structured differently,” Hogan added.

“Rather than a guaranteed cash amount upfront, I believe it will move more to a model of costs covered with a profit split between Championship and League 1 clubs and the broadcasters, once agreed levels are hit.

“This will put the onus on all of us – the broadcaster, clubs, and the RFL – to deliver more eyeballs, which then will have an upside for everyone’s sponsors, ground advertising and so on.”

In short, the most proactive clubs will be the ones that survive and hopefully thrive.

Anybody with a hand out just for TV funding without building their income streams elsewhere is sure to face major struggles.

Hopefully those will be in the extreme minority, if they exist at all.

As Hogan points out, everybody outside the top-flight has known this situation was coming, and the shrewdest clubs among them have long been planning for what will unfold over the next 12 months.

In Newcastle, Thunder are about to appoint their fifth and sixth community development officers. Hogan reports they have big recruitment plans for 2022 and that World Cup tickets in the North East are selling strongly.

On the field, both the Championship and League 1 remain terrific products, with as many top-level players filtering down the leagues this year as in any other season in memory.

The key for all clubs will be engaging with local communities to communicate that, and then offering platforms and opportunities for people within those towns and cities both on rugby fields and in other areas.

It’s undoubtedly a crucial time – but it could be an exciting one too.

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