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Super League: Radical 'grading' plans announced for entry from 2025 with guaranteed spots for 'Grade A' teams

"Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project": Rugby League clubs may be graded on social media followings, TV viewing figures, ticket sales, stadium big screens for Super League places from 2025; Any team that achieves Grade A status guaranteed one of 12 places, exempt from relegation

Relive how St Helens won a record fourth straight Super League title, as we look back at some key games from the season.
Image: St Helens are the reigning Super League champions, but radical 'grading' plans have been announced for entry from 2025

Rugby League clubs may be assessed on the size of their social media following, TV viewing figures, ticket sales and stadium big screens if they want to play in Super League from 2025.

The proposed criteria for the "Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project" was presented to clubs on Thursday, with teams set to be judged not only by on-field performance, but also by their fanbase, finances, stadia and catchment area.

If ratified, any team that achieves Grade A status would be guaranteed one of the 12 places in Super League and effectively be exempt from relegation while they retain that status.

The highest-performing Grade B teams would be offered places when spaces are available, while any team given a Grade C would play in the Championship or League 1.

Super League
Image: Clubs may be assessed on the size of their social media following, TV viewing figures, ticket sales and stadium big screens if they want to play in Super League from 2025

The plan has effectively put all clubs on notice to try to score as high as possible before a decision is made on which teams will be in the 2025 Super League. That decision is expected in the summer of 2024.

The radical plans have been recommended by the RFL's new strategic partner, sports management company IMG, in what could be the biggest change to Super League since its inception 25 years ago.

Thursday's proposals state a desire to incentivise clubs to grow their fanbase; engage better with fans; grow top-line non-centralised revenue; invest in their club and the sport in a sustainable manner; ensure strong governance and "run in a best-in-class way".

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Matt Dwyer, vice president of sport management IMG Media, expands further on the proposed criteria for the 'Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project' being introduced to Super League

All clubs will be scored out of 20 and a score of 15 or more is required for Category A status with 7.5 points or more achieving Category B status.

The points will be awarded in the following five areas:

Fandom (five points) - clubs' fanbases would be assessed in areas such as match attendance, TV viewership, social media following and website visits.

On-field performance (five points) - clubs would be ranked on league position in the last three seasons with bonus points for winning the league and cup competitions.

Finance (five points) - clubs would be rewarded for profitability, financial stability and a diversification of revenue streams.

Stadium (three points) - each club's stadium and facilities would need to reach minimum standards and "add value to broadcast and fan experience". The availability of LED lighting and a big screen would earn points.

Catchment (two points) - in a bid to generate new fan bases, the population of a club's local area would earn points but this score is reduced if there are lots of clubs in the same area.

A vote on the proposals is set to take place at an RFL Council Special General Meeting on April 19. Illustrative gradings for 2024 would be released after the 2023 season with the 2025 Super League then confirmed in the summer of 2024.

"After the overwhelming support provided by clubs to the Reimagining Rugby League recommendations when they were first presented last September, the clubs have now been provided with full details of the grading process which is an important part of those proposals," Frank Slevin, the chair of RL Commercial, said on Thursday.

"An immense amount of work has been done by IMG, as part of their long-term strategic partnership with Rugby League, to produce a blueprint which breaks new ground for British sport.

"It is important the clubs now have time to consider the proposals, and to provide feedback, in a series of meetings that have been arranged between now and the Special General Meeting of clubs next month."

Matt Dwyer, vice president of sport management IMG Media, added: "We, RL Commercial and the RFL believe improvement in each of these areas is possible for all clubs over time and is vital to transforming and future-proofing Rugby League.

"Ultimately, we want to be in position down the line where the top tier league is full of Category A clubs and being expanded."

Wilkin: This is a complete change from sport in every essence | We're at a landmark moment

Sky Sports Rugby League's Jon Wilkin said on Thursday...

"This is going away from the traditional promotion and relegation, and the performances on the field will only count for a small part of the grading clubs will receive.

"Just going back a bit, Super League has gone on a 12-year partnership with IMG, and IMG have come in and made some recommendations. This is the first real big bit of news from that partnership.

"It's a complete change from sport in every essence really, because promotion and relegation is wholly based on performance. This model really distorts that towards off-field matters, and that's where it becomes interesting for me.

"I believe the game has got to a point now where, off the field, the structure and organisation of the clubs has almost become more important than performance. That's where the game is at right now. And it's a massive moment for the game.

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Jon Wilkin explains why a new grading system is being introduced into Super League and what it could mean for clubs and fans

"[Fans] will probably be sceptical I would imagine. It's going to be tough to sell this to the clubs and the fans, but I honestly believe firmly that the partnership with IMG is exciting. And the game needs change.

"This will allow people with genuine money and clout to come in and invest in the long-term future of clubs that are maybe not performing as well as they should. And have the security that: 'If I spend millions here now, I'm guaranteed a place in Super League, even if the team doesn't perform on the field.'

"That, for me, sounds crazy, because it's sport and we're so used to the team that wins staying up, and the team that loses going down. This is a real departure from that.

"But the essence of it is to get the clubs to take seriously developing themselves off the field into legitimate businesses. Because we've seen in rugby union, and football, and all team sports really, what the impact has been post-Covid. How questionable business models of sports clubs are.

"IMG and Super League have drawn a line in the sand and said: 'Maybe this is the way to go going forward.' But it's incredibly complicated if naïve sports fans are listening to this. They are probably scratching their heads a little bit.

"There's three stages to change. The first reaction to any change in life is aggressive opposition, and once you get through that, people become inquisitive, and the third stage is people buy in and accept it.

"We're going to see the aggressive opposition side of it, but rugby league has always innovated and changed.

"We're at a landmark moment in the game, where we can decide what the future looks like, and genuinely plan for a strong future for the sport. Because what we're doing right now, simply isn't going to work."

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