Worrying times or opportunity knocks for Championship TV coverage?

Gareth Walker canvasses opinion on the implications of the new TV deal

Super League finally announced confirmation of its new Sky contract last week, and although exact details have not been released, it is clear both that there is a significant reduction and that it won’t be top flight clubs hit the hardest.

While interim top-flight chairman Ken Davy said all the right things about a need to support all parts of the Rugby League pyramid, the stark reality is that Championship and League 1 clubs are facing huge reductions in central funding next season.

Most if not all knew that was coming, but that doesn’t lessen its impact.

But what do key figures outside Super League think will be the ultimate impact of last week’s news?

“I can’t speak on behalf of other clubs, but we at Halifax have been working on 2022 strategy for some time now, doing our due diligence,” Panthers’ Chairman Dave Grayson explained.

“It will be a challenge for us, but we will come out of it leaner and smarter as a club and use it as a platform to build for the future.

“The financial landscape will change for Championship and League 1 clubs. To what extent will depend on the distribution numbers to those levels.

“I am sure we will all have our challenges, in varying degrees.

“Again, I can only speak for Halifax Panthers, but we have a clear vision and strategy on changing our business model away from reliance on RFL distribution, to increasing existing and new revenue streams whilst at the same time controlling costs.

“It is vitally important for the game at all levels, including the community game, that we all focus on this to survive and grow the game.”

Rochdale Hornets Chairman Andy Mazey agrees that clubs need to be prepared, and should have been for some time now.

“You can’t help but be concerned as we await details of exactly what funding will flow down to the RFL from Super League,” Mazey said.

“The only thing we do know is at best it will be significantly less than the current agreement and in the worst case nothing at all.

“This should not come as a surprise. We’ve spoken many times about the inevitability of this situation since 2018, but it’s now a reality.

“You have to fear the worst for those who are heavily reliant upon present levels of funding, and whose business models are propped up by distributions from the centre and offer little in terms of growth potential or value to the sport.

“Hopefully the RFL has a plan and those who can operate sustainably and add value will all move forward with a collective desire to grow the game and sell the fantastic product that exists outside Super League.

“The fact that Super League no longer has control of the Championship and League 1 rights however is a potential opportunity in my eyes and one that hopefully we can monetise and build on.”

But is a monetary TV deal for the two competitions a realistic proposition?

“It could be, if what we are hearing about the viewing figures on OurLeague and Facebook is right,” Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall said.

“It shows there is an appetite for those games.”

Mazey and Grayson both believe there is a market for it.

“I know there is interest from more than one broadcaster,” Mazey said.

“As is being proved with the OurLeague coverage, it’s a fantastic product, and my belief is if we market and sell it right it’s a far better TV offering than what we see week in, week out from Super League.”

Grayson added: “I think the Championship and League 1 product is a hidden gem in the Rugby League crown.

“The previous exposure has been limited, but if a deal elsewhere can be made, somebody is going to have a fantastic product to market on their media platform.

“It has been done previously with Premier Sports and there is no reason why it cannot be done again.”

One thing is for certain; these are pivotal times for the sport at all levels, but especially in the two predominantly semi-professional competitions. What happens over the next year could shape its long-term future.

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