What criteria IMG could look for ahead of Super League restructure and licensing

IT’S well known by now that IMG are set to restructure rugby league ahead of the 2025 season.

What that entails is still yet to be revealed but there is set to be a licensing system involved, split into Grade A, B and C criteria.

Those receiving a Grade A license will be exempt from relegation whilst the others will have to battle it out amongst themselves to get to a point where a Grade A license is no longer unattainable.

Hull KR chief executive Paul Lakin stated earlier in the week that he believes only four Super League clubs will be given a Grade A license, meaning eight spots are essentially up for grabs in the top flight.

But, with the fact that only four out of 12 Super League clubs are getting the best grading, what could the criteria for those rankings be?

Stadium and facilities

Perhaps one of the biggest boxes to tick will be the stadium and facilities. Whether or not a club will achieve a Grade A license if they don’t own their own stadium remains to be seen, but it has always been the aim of Super League and RFL for top flight clubs to develop or redevelop grounds that are Super League quality. Over the years this has seen the likes of St Helens, Salford Red Devils and Warrington Wolves build or move into new venues whilst Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity have taken it upon themselves to redevelop.

On-field performances

On-field performances will be key in IMG’s thinking; why would the new stakeholder want clubs with brand spanking new facilities that fail to win a game? Of course, being competitive is perhaps the key here as not every Super League side can win trophies during the year. However, there will need to be some cut-off point so that the likes of 2003 and 2014 aren’t repeated when Halifax Panthers and London Broncos won just one game each respectively.

Academy set-up

Every Super League club wants to be proud of their academy conveyor belt, but the likes of St Helens and Wigan Warriors are perhaps streets ahead in this box. Consistently churning out stars from teenage years right the way through to the first-team should be high up on the list of IMG’s priorities – and Super League clubs’ priorities as well. Having a successful academy is not only a way of ensuring continued success, but it is also a way of saving expenditure on expensive overseas players.

Fanbase

No one wants to watch rugby league in front of an empty stadium. Leeds Rhinos were the frontrunners in this department in 2022 as, even through the shambles of winning just one from nine games at the start of the season, crowds never dipped below 10,000 spectators. Having a strong core of loyal supporters should be the minimum aim of any top flight club, but the 12 teams need to be actively showing that they are doing all they can to both consolidate the fanbase that they do have as well as trying to expand it.

Financial stability

IMG will not want another decade like the one seen in 2010 when Bradford Bulls went into liquidation numerous times whilst other Super League clubs were said to be struggling with their finances. The need for strong, secure and stable investment for all Super League sides should form the crux of IMG’s wishes. The new stakeholder will perhaps not look fondly on those clubs struggling to spend the salary cap despite it being almost three times as less than the NRL’s cap, although spending within their means is certainly a tick.

Community work

All Super League clubs need to be active in their respective communities in order to drive the fanbase and potential investment in their local areas. Being seen out and about, helping those in need is all part of being a role model for children as well as boosting interest.