Super League chief executive Robert Elstone has admitted that they are in discussions to introduce a quota restricting the number of overseas teams in the top-flight to an initial limit of three – but insists they will be prepared to admit extra non-British teams if they add value to the competition.
League Express revealed last month how talks surrounding the New York and Ottawa franchises led Elstone and Super League to finalise an agreement with the RFL, on a limit to the number of overseas teams who would be admitted to the top-flight without further scrutiny – saying they will allow three foreign teams into the competition.
However, Elstone has denied claims Super League is anti-expansion, and says the agreement is being drafted to protect the value of the competition – insisting that if a fourth overseas team was to obtain promotion, they would be welcomed into the top-flight if they brought the right values and agreements to the table.
“There’s an agreement between us and the RFL in principle over what that looks like,” he said. “It hasn’t been dotted and crossed and we need to be considered about how we announce that. We’re broadly happy with where we’ll end up on that but the quota is something we’re looking at.
“Ultimately Super League has the right to override whatever the rules are. If we are at a particular number in the competition and Club X comes along and we’re at the quota, but Club X is outstanding and will come with a fan base and without operational chances and with the opportunity of a new broadcast deal, then we have the right to admit them into Super League.
“The ultimate wraparound is not negative and it’s not anti-expansion and it’s important to say that. We need to protect the value in Super League and what we can’t be doing is diluting that value. If we’re not diluting that then absolutely tremendous, bring it on. But we need to protect ourselves and make sure we don’t end up with a competition that becomes overly skewed into non-UK clubs which has a material impact on sponsorship values and broadcast values.
“We would be wrong to allow that to happen without protection. We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot by taking a competition to market that is not appealing to broadcasters. If we can clearly stimulate interest from international broadcasters then that’s terrific and part of the work we need to do.”
Elstone also admitted in a lengthy media briefing in Manchester on Thursday that concerns remain over the sustainability of North American franchises – saying the ‘jury is out’ on whether they can deliver promised long-term growth for the sport across the world.
He said: “From my point of view I just need to make sure that all the homework has been done on these clubs. I still think the jury is out on sustainability, intent, logistic capability, impact on the competition’s integrity, and the size and impact on the overall cake. That’s not to be negative about it – we need to be the opposite and welcoming it. But we need to have our eyes wide open over where it’s going to take us.
“What New York, Ottawa, Toronto have done is creative talkability and interest. That’s promoted a lot of media attention and attention from fans. I think the immediate thought is wow, this looks exciting, but what it does do then is prompt a whole load of difficult questions. Is it sustainable, is it well intended, is it going to establish roots, can it be dealt with logistically, will it put any bias into the competition? Most fundamentally, does it grow the cake? Does it come with additional fans, sponsors, broadcast revenues? I’m not sure all those questions have been thought through and dealt with and I think they need to be.”