Championship Focus: It’s Crunch Month!

Gareth Walker looks ahead to some huge decisions for the sport outside the elite

This week marks the start of December, which will arguably be the most important month for clubs outside the top flight since the advent of Super League and talks of mergers.

There are a host of crucial issues facing clubs in the Championship and League 1 that will help to shape their individual and collective futures.

It’s hard to list them in order of importance, but, with economic uncertainty ahead, the size of the next television deal will be at the forefront of most directors’ minds.

National reports last week that the agreement is close are premature at the time of writing, including the line that Championship and League 1 clubs, alongside the RFL, will receive a quarter of the income.

The percentage that they will be given depends on the size of the deal, and with that not yet signed off, clubs will have to wait to be sure of how much central funding they receive beyond 2021.

Just as significant will be the decision over when next season starts for the Championship and League 1.

With Super League now locked in for March 11, supporters outside the top flight are looking for information from their clubs.

It isn’t straightforward.

The presence of crowds is even more imperative for matches that aren’t being televised, although there have been discussions about the possibility of starting behind closed doors and showing the games online.

That could even be with the 1895 Cup, whose format has yet to be finalised.

The presence of crowds will depend on a whole host of uncontrollable factors, making these decisions that bit more difficult.

But clubs at this level cannot get away from the fact that they won’t have played for at least twelve months by the time they start again.

Extending that time further will test the loyalty of any casual fan and even ardent supporters, who have got out of the habit of watching their teams regularly.

More than ever at the moment people are looking for hope – and season start dates, season ticket prices, new kits and player signings can all lift morale.

Then there are the two promotion issues still to be decided.

Six Championship clubs are vying for the one available Super League place – Bradford, Featherstone, Leigh, London, Toulouse and York.

Whichever way decisions falls will doubtless cause controversy, which has started before the call has even been made.

The successful team will have minimal time to ensure their squad will be sufficiently competitive, and the five that aren’t will have to refocus on a promotion campaign on the field.

There are the five clubs looking to take the vacant place in the second tier – Barrow, Doncaster, Newcastle, Rochdale and Workington.

With less at stake financially, the decision is likely to be less contentious, but all five clubs feel they have strong cases.

What that will also do is have an impact on the clubs left behind in League 1.

All five were widely expected to be promotion contenders alongside Ottawa Aces following their impressive recruitment campaign.

With the Canadian club stood down and the successful member of the quintet also out of the equation, it brings a different dynamic to the teams left in the third division, with the likes of Keighley and Hunslet no doubt feeling their promotion credentials will have improved, having also recruited eye-catching squads.

It all adds up to a defining December for the sport in the Championship and League 1, with each decision likely to have a significant impact.

Issues such as public health, the TV deal and promotion decisions are out of the hands of the clubs.

But their reactions to them, and plans for the start of next season, need to be both measured and decisive for the sport re-ignite in 2021.

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