The monster in the room for Championship and League 1 clubs

For Championship and League One clubs, it’s not so much the elephant in the room as the monster lurking round the corner.

Officials outside the elite are fully aware of the fact that their television distribution income could end from 2022 onwards, and the impact that would have on the sport at this level.

The shrewdest of them are planning for the worst-case scenario already.

The clubs that continue to rely on central funding handouts to operate on a day-to-day basis are the ones who could face devastating consequences if the money dries up after the next two seasons.

The restructuring of the game to incorporate the controversial Super 8s system saw a significant increase in central funding to clubs outside the top table, in a bid primarily to aid the process of promotion and relegation.

But that helped contribute to the split in the game that unfolded last year. Some in Super League felt that the rest deserved less, and those outside the elite felt both that their hands were tied being lumped into a TV deal that didn’t then screen their competition, while they are exposed by a potentially critical drop in funding.

Negotiations ensured that the top-flight clubs guaranteed the current level of distribution for those in Championship and League One until the end of the current deal in 2021, but beyond that the waters get murkier.

There is an exact calculation to what can happen then, but fundamentally, if Super League only secures a deal that is 75 percent of the current one, they are obliged to give the rest nothing.

As that figure increases, so does the funding that Championship and League One could get, but it would take an increase in the agreement for them to maintain the current level.

And in the current market, nobody is certain how possible that is.

“It’s been a massive worry from the moment the Super League breakaway from the RFL occurred last year,” Dewsbury Chairman Mark Sawyer told me in an article I’ve written for the current issue of Rugby League World in a detailed feature on the situation.

“A lot of concern and the thinking behind what happened was the 2022 TV deal, and it’s as if the clock has been running down since then.

“We’ll soon be there and hopefully we will have some positive news at what level of inclusion the Championship and League One will be involved, which will make it easier to plan ahead.

“It’s very difficult to plan beyond the next two years at the moment as it’s such an important factor.

“Because it’s out of our hands we feel totally exposed with it, and that’s why it’s so important to look at all potential review streams across the sport.

“Whether that is through a Sky renewal or somebody else, we need to keep our options open and be alert to what could happen beyond 2022.

“It certainly needs some good negotiating from Robert Elstone and his crew.”

Sawyer’s Oldham counterpart Chris Hamilton shared his concerns.

He said: “We worry because of the criteria that is there now regarding the new deal for Super League, and at what point that then means some finances for the rest of the game.

“There was a sharp intake of breath from people when that was confirmed.

“We’re very much aware of the situation, as I’m sure the whole game is.

“It’s a very fast-changing media world, and it’s why things like streaming and OurLeague could become so important.

“Even though it’s two years away I think everybody’s on notice, because by the end of 2021 we could be in a very different place.

“I think as clubs we do have to plan for the worst-case scenario.

“You’re almost planning for the worst and hoping for the best, and the reality is we might end up somewhere in between.”