Talking Rugby League, with League Express editor Martyn Sadler
Things are not looking good for Super League in terms of the projected income of the clubs from Sky Sports.
Although the Super League clubs effectively broke away from the RFL three years ago, in order to negotiate a new TV contract themselves rather than having the deal negotiated for them by the RFL, the move looks to have backfired.
Sky have shown for some time now that they have been losing interest in Rugby League. Their presentation of the game has lacked the sparkle it used to have in the early years of Super League and the reported offer of £20 million per year would seem to confirm that impression.
Is anyone to blame for this?
Well, I suppose the clubs that led the breakaway are the ones who should be asked to account for this disappointing development.
It seems that they were deluded about their ability to improve on what the RFL had done for them.
Having said that, we have to accept that the current climate could hardly be any worse for the game, with negotiations taking place at the end of a totally unprecedented year, with so much uncertainty about future viewing figures and attendances.
Of course the same problem affected the NRL in Australia, only on a larger scale.
The NRL is a much bigger competition than Super League in terms of the TV income it generates, and there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the future of that competition when it ground to a halt in March.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and there were some people in Australia who suggested that the NRL might never recover from financial damage caused by the coronavirus.
It looked likely at one stage that the broadcasters might walk away from their broadcasting contracts on the basis that the NRL couldn’t deliver its part of the deal.
But fortunately the NRL was able to get itself back up and running by the end of May, and its Chairman Peter V’landys was able to negotiate a new contract with the terrestrial broadcaster Channel 9. V’landys agreed a new deal for less money, but he was able to guarantee the income to the clubs would remain roughly the same, by slashing the budgets of the NRL’s head office without there being any obvious impact on the quality of the service the NRL was offering to its clubs or the public.
Super League, on the other hand, has significantly increased its central costs, and without some financial surgery it looks as though it will be the clubs that will take the major hit from a much reduced income.
Can that state of affairs continue? The clubs have to make that decision.
In the meantime it looks as though they will receive significantly less income from the 2022 season and they need a plan to be able to handle that problem.
I have one simple but quite effective solution.
In 2021 the Super League clubs are each entitled to seven spots on the overseas quota.
Inevitably overseas players tend to be far more expensive than domestic players.
So if the clubs are going to have to cope with less income, the obvious solution would be to reduce the number of quota players.
I would take the drastic step of reducing the overseas quota to three players, which would cut out a significant cost immediately.
If there were some overseas playing contracts stretching into 2022, those contracts would have to be respected, but clubs would be prevented from agreeing new contracts with overseas players if those would take them to more than three overseas stars.
Such a move would have the additional, welcome effect of giving far more opportunities to domestic players, particularly some of the younger players we have seen in Super League this season.
No longer would younger players find their way into Super League barred by older overseas stars.
I hope the clubs will consider this proposal, although I won’t hold my breath.
Championship gears up
One of the strange things about Leigh Centurions being promoted to Super League last week was that it will make the Championship competition far more exciting.
If Leigh had remained in the Championship in 2021, I suspect that they might have dominated the competition.
But now they are in Super League, where I’m sure they will present a real challenge for the other Super League clubs.
Meanwhile the five clubs that didn’t get the nod from the panel last week will all have very competitive squads, and I’m sure they will be joined by the other clubs in the Championship.
The RFL is looking to sell broadcasting rights to the Championship in a separate package to the Super League rights and I hope they are successful in being able to find a buyer.
As I’ve said many times in this column, I’ve never been able to understand why Sky Sports held the rights to the Championship but failed to exercise their right, other than at the time of the Summer Bash.
That always seemed crazy to me, and I hope that in 2021 the RFL and the clubs themselves will be able to generate the sort of publicity that will get others noticing what they have to offer.
Let’s stop hiding our light under a bushel.
Finally from me, may I wish all our readers the compliments of the season, both for a joyful Christmas and New Year, and when we return with our issue of Monday 4 January I hope you will all be back with us.
And if you need some Rugby League to read about in the meantime, don’t forget to get hold of a copy of the Rugby League Yearbook 2020-21, which is quickly selling out.
If you want to buy it from us you’ll have to move quickly, although of course it is available in most bookshops.
The authors, Tim Butcher and Danny Spencer, have done another remarkable job and I would like to place on record my thanks to both of them.
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