RFL gives 'strong support' to radical new plans from IMG to scrap Super League relegation
RFL members have given strong support to the principles and direction of the recommendations put in place by its new strategic partner, sports management company IMG in what could be the biggest changes to the Super League since its inception 25 years ago
Last Updated: 14/10/22 7:42am
The RFL has given "strong support" to the principles and direction of radical new plans put in place by its new strategic partner, sports management company IMG in what could be the biggest changes to the sport since its inception 25 years ago.
After months of analysis, proposals have been put forward to the 42 clubs in the RFL on how the sport can move forward, with small changes to radical overhauls discussed among the rugby league community.
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The RFL has now given its support, saying: "At a meeting of the Rugby League Council arranged for further discussions of the Reimagining Rugby League recommendations presented to the sport by IMG last month, the RFL members today gave strong support to the principles and direction of the recommendations.
"The sport's executive will now work with IMG to scope out the details of the recommendations. This will involve appropriate consultation with clubs and other stakeholders.
"This work will sit alongside other workstreams to maximise the commercial potential of the sport and build deeper relationships with fans and new audiences.
"Members were assured that they will have further opportunity to register their views as the process continues."
In the "Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project", IMG has put forward seven key measures it believes will drive the sport's long-term growth as IMG, the RFL and Super League embark on a 12-year strategic partnership.
The company has been working with the sport and its partners to find a path forward from 2024 onwards that increases revenue and engagement, with the recommendations set out the first step of that plan and according to Simon Johnson, chairman of the Rugby Football League, the proposals "landed very well" with clubs, who will now work with IMG to scope out the details of the recommendations.
- A re-positioned calendar which optimises flow, narrative and engagement, incorporating regular ‘peaks’ of interest and a compelling season climax.
- A calendar aligned with the global game to facilitate an international window in October and incorporate a mid-season international.
- Participation in the top tier to be based on a range of on and off field measures, delivered through a club grading system with the aim of supporting financial sustainability and encouraging investment into clubs. ‘Category A’ clubs will be guaranteed participation in the top tier whilst ‘Category B’ clubs will be re-assessed annually with the highest-ranking clubs occupying the remaining slots in the top tier. Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers with tier two increasingly filled with strong Category B Clubs.
- An expansion strategy to be developed that targets and supports the growth of the Women’s and Girls’ game, and also growth in new markets.
- Participation of clubs outside of the UK to be capped and with additional standards to support domestic growth.
- Operations to be centralised where this can maximise efficiencies and drive incremental revenue (e.g. ticketing and digital infrastructure).
- A new brand strategy to be introduced and aligned with the above commercial strategy.
The stand-out proposal is a top tier that will be decided on both "on and off-field" criteria, a grading system deciding participation in the league.
How many clubs will be in this league is not yet outlined but there would then be a league of "Category B" clubs that participate in the second and third tier and continue with promotion and relegation.
These clubs that are considered "Category B" will be reassessed annually and the highest-ranking clubs will take part in the top tier.
The criteria for grading will be announced before the start of next season and will be introduced on an illustrative basis in 2024 before being rolled out fully in 2025. Category A are in top tier, Category B in top tier when space available and Category C will be in the second and third tier.
Further to the proposals set out, IMG has also recommended the removal of loop fixtures, including the Magic Weekend, bringing the Challenge Cup final back to May and having increased focus on international breaks.
The issue for the sport, according to IMG, has been too much focus on the format and structure itself rather than the product. It is promoting a renewed focus on fan engagement and matchday experiences.
In order to put these proposals into action, IMG has had consultation meetings with the NRL and IRL about putting international rugby league at the forefront which should be helped by an aligned global calendar for the sport.
Outside of the format of the men's competition, France, London and the women's game identified as three areas of focus for growth.
However, the number of clubs outside of the UK would also be capped at two with a minimum number of domestic players in a match-day 17 among the participation criteria.
Those clubs must also subsidise incremental travel costs of UK clubs until a central contribution can otherwise cover them.
The aim by 2026 is to have a top flight with 14 teams and 14 teams in the Championship in 2024. League One remains flexible and there are no plans of merging clubs.