We’re on the cusp of a meeting that will largely determine whether franchises based in New York and Ottawa will be accepted into the British League structure.
Both parties have to convince RFL member clubs and the RFL board itself that they can benefit the sport. Ultimately, the deciding factor should be whether they can improve the long-term landscape of rugby league as a whole.
Yet as we approach a decision which could have huge ramifications on the survival of the sport and its future prospects, it’s inevitable that the opinion of many clubs will come down purely to what is best for themselves.
To certain clubs, the potential inclusion of two North American franchises with heaps of money behind them is nothing other than a threat to their ambition and their existence. It’s obvious that a second and third Toronto Wolfpack shaped rival will either dent a club’s Super League ambitions or threaten their existing Super League status.
That shouldn’t stop clubs from doing what is in the best interest of the game, although you’d have to be the most naive idealist to think that will be the case.
The farcical handling of the league restructure emphatically demonstrated how the majority of clubs are only pulling in the direction that best suits them. After months of bickering about which structure was best for the game, Championship clubs released a document that outlined how they would be affected by the next TV deal should it be reduced. Their main priority was money with the makeup of the league structure a distant second. Super Leauge clubs only cared to ensure they could protect their Super League status and the funding that comes with that, and they drew up various structures to do that effectively as possible.
So heading into tomorrow there is absolutely no reason to think either franchise will be given a fair crack of the whip by certain clubs. It’s unlikely the way the clubs vote will be made public, although you could already have a fair guess at which clubs will and will not vote in favour.
It’s a small-minded, self-preservation mentality that has stifled the game for some time.
Jon Flatman, the York chairman, summarised the mentality perfectly when he said: “Some people are worried about the slice of the pie rather than thinking about the size of the pie.”
It goes without saying that if fundamental flaws are found in either bid they shouldn’t be pushed through for the sake of expansion either. But it would be a travesty if clubs voted against their inclusion when it’s clear they could increase the size of that pie, purely to wipe out a potential on-field rival.
The commercial potential of expansion into North America could propel Rugby League into a different stratosphere. Yet there’s a very high probability that some clubs will refuse to recognise that their income streams could be boosted substantially through broadcast deals and blue chip sponsors in order to preserve their central distribution funding.
New York and Ottawa are very much a risk, but one, on the face of it, that’s worth taking.
Rugby league has made too many decisions based on short-term motives. It needs to change tact, and that starts by looking at the bigger picture.