What IMG’s recommendations mean for the lower leagues

IMG have set out their proposals for the future of Rugby League, which include an end to promotion and relegation from Super League.

But instead of shutting lower-league clubs out of the top tier, they say their new grading system will provide an “open competition” where there is a “spot for everybody who meets the criteria” required.

The grading sees three categories, based on a to-be-determined range of criteria; ‘Category A’ clubs will have guaranteed participation in Super League, ‘Category B’ clubs are eligible to join the top tier with the highest-ranked ones each season doing so, and ‘Category C’ clubs can only play in the lower divisions.

This will begin in the 2025 season, so promotion and relegation will occur as normal between the Championship and Super League for the final time in 2023.

For clubs, this system will mean that it is clear what each needs to do to progress up the pyramid, which IMG hope will encourage investment.

As ‘Category B’ clubs will be reviewed on an annual basis, they will have the chance each year to move up, even once twelve teams reach ‘Category A’ as Super League at this point will expand to 14 teams so the opportunity to join remains.

“The ultimate objective is that we want to incentivise investment by clubs, by creating an environment where they can invest and know with some degree of certainty what their future is going to look like,” said IMG’s vice-president of sports management, Matt Dwyer.

However, IMG also say they fully welcome clubs who do not have ambitions to reach the first tier, and want strong second and third divisions too, including a Championship “increasingly filled with strong Category B clubs”.

As for the lower leagues as a whole, promotion and relegation will continue between a 14-team Championship and League One (in which the number of teams will remain flexible, allowing new clubs to join) on the basis of on-field performance alone, while the 1895 Cup would continue.

And IMG stress that as the fruits of their plan to improve the sport’s ‘product’ and increase revenue comes to fruition, the money generated will trickle down to the benefit of all.

“The proportion of central funding will remain constant, so as the game grows the amount of money in absolute terms flowing down the pyramid increases,” said Dwyer.

“If we can increase the size of the game through the top, we’ll be able to move more funding down through the rest of the pyramid.”