Talking Rugby League: How the RFL made a profit in 2020

Just before Christmas the RFL lodged its accounts for the year ended 31 December 2020 with Companies House.

As we might have expected, The Rugby Football League Limited suffered a 25 per cent drop in its income compared to 2019, with it turnover falling to £15,345,603 from £20,711,056 in the previous year.

It had no match income at all in 2020, whereas it generated £2,203,007 from this source in 2019, while its sponsorship income was also roughly halved to £859,993 from the previous year.

Given that the Australian tour was postponed and that the Challenge Cup Final was played in front of an empty stadium at Wembley, that reduction was only to be expected, although the RFL did manage to make an operating profit of £7,371, compared to a loss of £7,263 the previous year.

That was mainly because it was able to sharply reduce its match costs from £1,723,818 to £597,660.

And the governing body was able to distribute £5,860,126 to its member clubs, compared to £6,672,093 the previous year.

The average number of staff working for the RFL during 2020 was 125, including nine on-field staff. Those figures were a reduction from the previous year’s figures of 132 and 13 respectively.

The RFL directors received remuneration totalling £392,811 in 2020, which was down from £420,.092 the previous year.

The highest paid director, who is presumably Ralph Rimmer, received £167,000 which was down from £174,000 the previous year, while the RFL Chairman Simon Johnson was paid £44,375. The other four non-executive directors were all paid between £22,000 and £24,000.

The total remuneration of the RFL’s senior management group was £540,000, down from £580,000 the previous year.

Other interesting details revealed by the accounts include confirmation that the RFL and Super League would pay Sky a rebate of £3,725,000 because of the lack of adequate live content under the broadcasting contract in 2020.

In its strategic report, the RFL directors reveal that the number of registrations in the community game dropped from 109,000 in 2019 to 85,000 in 2020, which was, I suppose, inevitable.

The report also reveals that the RFL has an application to the government’s Sport Survival Board to cover the additional World Cup costs that result from a year’s delay. That application hasn’t yet been resolved, but the RFL is confident that it will be in a way that is favourable to the governing body, with further discussions taking place about the possibility for a conditional underwriting of the tournament by the government to cover the costs of staging the tournament if there Covid pandemic is still creating havoc and impacts negatively on the World Cup.

Covid’s malevolent advance

As you will have read on page 3 of this issue of League Express, the impact of the Covid pandemic, which until recently we had hoped would no longer disrupt Rugby League competitions, is likely to have a significant impact on the start of the season, mainly because of the decision of the French government to prevent anyone from partaking in professional sport who hasn’t been fully vaccinated.

That casts some doubt on whether any matches will be played in France. We have already seen the disruption to rugby union’s European Championship and the only good thing for Rugby League is that the season hasn’t yet started, although it is approaching fast.

The RFL has made it clear that it will not attempt to mandate vaccinations for professional Rugby League players, nor will it insist that only vaccinated players can play in competitions it controls.

The RFL is urging players to be vaccinated, but it can’t mandate them.

Although I’ve been fully vaccinated myself, I don’t think any organisation has the right to insist that any individual must inject something into himself or herself if they don’t wish to do so.
Having said that, it looks obvious to me that a player who hasn’t been vaccinated is potentially less valuable than one who has been if it means that the unvaccinated player can’t take part in all his club’s matches, while the vaccinated player can.

So, we might find when clubs are negotiating future contracts that the vaccination status of players could be a significant factor that determines their value.

Ultimately a player has the right to make a free choice, but it’s important to understand and accept the different impact of the choices that are made.

Players who don’t want to be vaccinated should have their rights respected, but they can’t expect to have their cake and eat it.

Two Tribes

On New Year’s Eve I had a Zoom discussion with Aussie journalist Steve Mascord about his new book, ‘Two Tribes’, which I reviewed in the last issue of League Express.

The discussion is now on the website.

I hope it’s an interesting discussion about a crucial period in the history of Rugby League, which is now often referred to as the Super League war.

Check it out at

I hope you enjoy it.

And finally, can I wish all the readers of this column a Happy and Prosperous New Year, hopefully with the Covid pandemic on the back foot.

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