IMG reveals plans for Rugby League involving new Super League licensing system

IMG have unveiled their first recommendations for Rugby League, including a return to a form of licensing for Super League.

The agency, brought into the sport on a twelve-year partnership earlier this year, say participation in the top tier will “be based on a range of on- and off-field measures, delivered through a club grading system”.

They recommend introducing a category system for clubs, with ‘Category A’ clubs having guaranteed participation in Super League.

‘Category B’ clubs would be re-assessed annually with the highest-ranking clubs occupying the remaining slots in the top tier.

Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers.

They also say that “participation of clubs outside of the UK (is) to be capped”, initially at two across the divisions.

The criteria which will determine the grading of each club will be announced prior to the start of the 2023 season, with clubs given an indicative grading in 2024 before the system fully begins in 2025.

Twelve clubs will remain in the top tier until there are twelve that meet the ‘Category A’ criteria, at which point the division will expand to 14 teams.

The criteria is still to be developed but IMG say they will be “objective, easily measurable, reliable, transparent and valid”.

IMG have also proposed other changes to Super League which will be implemented from the 2024 season.

These include the removal of loop fixtures and scrapping Magic Weekend entirely, so there would only be 22 fixtures a season with twelve clubs.

IMG’s other proposals include a “calendar aligned with the global game”, featuring an end-of-season international window and a mid-season fixture.

They also seek a “re-positioned calendar”, including the Challenge Cup final being played in May.

IMG have an expansion strategy that focuses on three areas they see as ripe for growth – France, the women’s game, and London.

However there will be a cap of two places in the British game for clubs outside the UK, and these will initially have to contribute to travel costs for visiting sides and field a minimum number of domestic players.

They plan a “centralisation of operations” which would see areas such as ticketing, marketing and merchandise happen under one roof where possible.

IMG will also work on a “new brand strategy”, and have not ruled out an entire rebrand of the competitions.

Clubs have been invited to a follow-up meeting on October 13, at which they will have the opportunity to provide further feedback and support IMG to work on the detail of their recommendations.