Super League urged to link with NRL

A private equity expert believes Super League needs to seek a detailed partnership with the NRL if it wants to expand.

Andrew Umbers, the co-founder of London-based company Oakwell Sports Advisory, has advised CVC on its £365 million purchase of a one-seventh share in the Six Nations and recently has urged the NRL to reconsider its stance on private equity investment.

Umbers says Rugby League is an attractive sport but it needs to change in the UK or, with a falling TV broadcast deal, it risks becoming smaller in the future.

“There’s so much that Rugby League has going for it – it’s a super sport, it’s really easy to understand, [but] it is dominated by the Chairmen of the clubs,” Umbers told League Express.

“It requires governance changes, or certainly governance to adapt to the 21st century, otherwise Super League is in danger of remaining a local game in both Australia and in England. And at worst it could become a semi-professional game in England, from which players will migrate to Australia, where they will get paid for their services and have a better platform for their skill sets.

“I don’t want Rugby League to have to become a semi-professional game because the clubs keep losing money, because the media income keeps falling and the sponsors are not there. Betfred are one of the significant sponsors and we know what’s happening with gaming and sponsorship, so Super League is likely to have to find a different bedfellow in the future.

“But Super League and its owners are the masters of their own destiny.”

Yorkshire-born Umbers, a former Chairman of Leeds United, believes that Super League joining up with the NRL would help unlock Rugby League’s potential.

“For Super League to really start to perform they should be looking to seek a much more detailed partnership with the NRL,” he said.

“And that’s because if you do a compare and contrast with the NRL, you will see the NRL have revenues of circa £300 million versus Super League, call it £40 million. The size of the NRL is nearly 10 times that of Super League.

“They’ve got significant central sponsorship and wagering through the State of Origin series, they’ve got significant gate receipts coming in, so the ecosystem of which Australian Rugby League exists is way, way healthier than that of Super League. To me it is an incredibly natural extension that would help the game grow globally.

“There is huge untapped potential in Rugby League across North America, across the Pacific Islands, and in the Pacific coast, in France, in other places in Europe, which need investment and development.

“Ultimately, I’m not saying Rugby League should be an Olympic event, but when you see the quality of Super League versus State of Origin for instance, or some of the Super League games versus the NRL, it’s not a surprise to anybody that Super League is not perhaps at the standard that the NRL is in terms of performance, marketing and entertainment.

“There are so many best practices within the NRL that could be extended into Super League. From a private equity perspective, I think there certainly would be a lot of interest in that strategy, which would encompass Super League. So you’d have greater private equity interest in Super League if they could be an NRL-driven strategy in northern Europe, if there could be an NRL Europe up there.”

According to Umbers, the NRL is in a great position on and off the field but itself would benefit from Super League also being strong.

“And then what we need is a strong international Rugby League [game], we don’t want it to be a one-sided World Cup just as it is a one-sided World Club Challenge,” he said.

“Globalisation of Rugby League is very, very important and the NRL can be that, if it wants to be. And because of the size of the NRL and its growth and its growth prospects, we believe that the NRL, with the State Origin, is worth somewhere between two and a half and $3 billion Aussie dollars.”

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