The financial prospects of Rugby League have been bolstered by the arrival of Sky’s distribution money.
League Express understands the RFL received a payment from the broadcaster as expected last week, which will be distributed to clubs later this month.
While top officials at the governing body had never doubted the arrival of the funding, given Sky’s pledge of support during the coronavirus pandemic, its arrival was a relief all the same, given Sky’s own issues as a result of the lockdown.
Many club officials have noted the importance of the funding during the lockdown when alternate revenue streams have been eradicated.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer refused to confirm the news, but praised the broadcaster for their ongoing support.
“Clearly we’re keeping our relationship with Sky confidential,” he said.
“But what I would say is we’re lucky to have them as a partner and fair play to them and the coverage they’re putting on. And the BBC, whose coverage over the weekend has been really well received; the broadcast partners have been hugely beneficial to us.
“How we will get through this is with a partnership with everybody. That includes broadcasters, commercial partners and everyone else holding their nerve.”
In an exclusive interview with League Express, Rimmer confirmed the RFL has yet to be given a definitive answer from the government on the governing body’s request for financial aid.
“They’re totally engaged and have been brilliant,” Rimmer said.
“We refer to it much more like a partnership than anything else. We’ll see what transpires in the next few weeks. They are busy, but I speak to them a couple of times a day. There’s nothing solid yet, but we are working well with them.”
Rimmer also hinted that he is keen to ensure clubs can still be promoted to Super League next season, despite growing calls for no side to be relegated.
With clubs already facing drastic financial pressure as a result of COVID-19, many officials have called for relegation to be scrapped at the end of the season, to rid the clubs of another potential financial burden.
However, Rimmer said he would also be keen for the opportunity of promotion to remain.
When asked if it was feasible for promotion to remain alongside no relegation, Rimmer said: “It depends on the model, but yes potentially.
“The RFL board has the final say on promotion and relegation, and we should remember that people have invested in their teams in at attempt to be promoted. I think all options are open, but we go back to the three key streams we’re looking at when trying to map out how the season looks. Solvency is a factor in this, player welfare and the integrity of our competitions are the other two, and both promotion and relegation play into that.
“I have been lucky enough to chair, attend or present on a weekly basis to all clubs and the community board and it’s important we keep that dialogue going. We know that whatever happens, in the end, it will not be perfect, because there’s no way of producing a perfect season on the back of this.
“But I think by the sheer size of what’s going on around us, people understand there will be some imperfections and it won’t please everyone, because that’s impossible.”
Rimmer concedes that the Ashes series is in doubt as a result of the lockdown, which would have an undeniable impact on the RFL’s finances.
“It would be wrong to say it isn’t under threat,” he said.
“There’s nothing yet determined on that, but clearly they (the NRL) have a fair old battle on themselves.
“It would be, as would any kind of movement in the Challenge Cup schedule, a hit. They are income streams into the RFL and that will have to go into our calculations. Realistically, when this period of lockdown finishes, it’s reasonable to think there will be less disposable income around and a lag in the recovery. We recognise where we are and apply as much science as we can.”
A potential cancellation of the Ashes series could open the door for the Super League Grand Final to be relocated and played later in the year, with media reports suggesting plans have been drawn up for the Challenge Cup Final to be held at Old Trafford in October, the regular home of the Grand Final, with Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium, due to host the third Ashes Test, hosting the Grand Final instead in November.
“There are a number of variables that we include and consider,” Rimmer said when asked about the likelihood of that happening.
“Clearly player welfare issues are very important. We can’t play a full tournament in a few weeks, so we have to consider a number of alternatives.
“Venue availability is one factor to consider, plus the fact you have a couple of countries with a different period of lockdown and transit restriction, plus the football season looking different next year. There are plenty of variables in that.”
In the meantime, Rimmer believes the RFL will have a much better idea of how the rest of the year will look by the end of the month.
“Certainly this month we should map out what the end of our 125th year looks like,” he said.
“It’s a big month for us and the country. The first and primary issue is everyone’s health, which relates to the nation. Beyond that, getting sport back on the radar, getting Rugby League back to our live audiences is key to the nation’s recovery. We’re delighted that Sky and the BBC have filled their spots with Rugby League content.
“What’s important is that we don’t quietly slip back in. We want to hit the ground running, celebrate the fact we’ve weathered the storm and it will be magical to get back to that point of players running out on pitches and to see people out there playing and watching after being starved of it for so long.
“We’re working on different models, a 12-week lockdown model, a 16-week model, and other timelines.
“So there are different versions of what we might roll out.
“For us to start playing again, to begin with, it would require the government to lift the restrictions on how we are currently living our lives; that’s out of our hands.
“Then there are other considerations, such as games behind closed doors. There might be a possibility of advancing games to behind closed doors, prior to a full unlock of the restrictions. We’re certainly talking about that.
“All of our partners and broadcasters would have to play their part to make it viable. The loss of income from games behind closed doors has to be factored in.
“But I do absolutely believe that sport in general and Rugby League in particular is embedded in our communities and will help lead us out of the tunnel, improve the psyche of the nation and lift all our spirits.”