IMG proposals for future of Rugby League gain approval from clubs

Rugby League remains on course to scrap on-field promotion to and relegation from Super League for the second time.

RFL bosses say clubs have given “strong support” to the seven key proposals of IMG, the sports management specialists brought in to move the game forward.

They include the implementation of a top tier with membership decided on “off-field measures” as well as performances on the pitch.

A Super League licensing system was introduced for the 2009 season in a bid to improve stadia, finances and playing standards, but dropped after six years.

Critics claimed Super League was becoming a closed shop and that the system created too many uncompetitive games in both the top flight and the Championship.

IMG’s current proposals were unveiled last month, with the 37 member clubs reconvening in Manchester last Thursday after taking time to consider them.

Having embarked on a twelve-year ‘strategic partnership’, IMG spent more than four months on the ‘Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project’, which suggests:

1 A repositioned calendar which optimises flow, narrative and engagement, incorporating regular ‘peaks’ of interest and a compelling season climax.

2 A calendar aligned with the global game to facilitate an international window in October and incorporate a mid-season international.

3 Participation in the top tier to be based on a range of on and off-field measures, delivered through a club grading system with the aim of supporting financial sustainability and encouraging investment into clubs.
Category A clubs will be guaranteed participation in the top tier while Category B clubs will be reassessed annually with the highest-ranking occupying the remaining slots in the top tier.
It is envisaged grading will take place on an illustrative basis at the end of the 2023 season, with changes to the competition structure delayed until 2025.
Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers with tier two increasingly filled with strong Category B clubs.

4 An expansion strategy to be developed which targets and supports the growth of the women’s and girls’ game, and growth in new markets.

5 Participation of clubs outside the UK to be capped and with additional standards to support domestic growth.

6 Operations to be centralised where this can maximise efficiencies and drive incremental revenue (eg. ticketing and digital infrastructure).

7 A new brand strategy to be introduced and aligned with the commercial strategy.

Keighley Cougars, just promoted to the Championship, have come out against what they term as “giving relegation immunity to the elite clubs”, but revealed they were the only club to vote against the proposals.

The RFL said in a statement: “At a meeting of the Rugby League Council arranged for further discussions of the Reimagining Rugby League recommendations, the RFL members gave strong support to the principles and direction of the recommendations.

“The sport’s executive will now work with IMG to scope out the details of the recommendations. This will involve appropriate consultation with clubs and other stakeholders.

“This work will sit alongside other work streams to maximise the commercial potential of the sport and build deeper relationships with fans and new audiences.

“Members were assured that they will have further opportunity to register their views as the process continues.”

Keighley chief executive Ryan O’Neill said: “To create a top division with elite clubs who can never face relegation is only in the self-interest of those involved. It is unfair, it is anti-competition, and it isn’t sport.

“Our managing director Kaue Garcia spoke to the RFL Council that elitism is not what sport is about, and that in the long term, it will damage Rugby League.

“The Cougars are currently standing alone against the proposals, but we believe in our values and in the long-term interests of our sport.”

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