British rugby league must undertake major overhaul ahead of next TV deal

Former Hull chief executive Shane Richardson has called for an overhaul of the British game with the establishment of an independent commission at the heart of it.

Richardson, who served on the board of Super League during his time at Hull and Gateshead Thunder, the club he help found in 1999, says the game in England is so badly fractured and dogged by in-fighting that it is in danger of going part-time, arguing major change must come before the next television deal expires in just over two years’ time.

A widely-respected administrator over three decades at club level in Australia with Cronulla, Penrith and South Sydney, Richardson has submitted a paper with his proposals to the NRL and circulated copies to “two or three” Super League clubs.

It was a fear that those clubs will ignore his plans that prompted Richardson to go public with his concerns.

“The paper I submitted to the NRL about a month ago is about the value of the English game and how it needed to be tied into what we need to do with the international calendar so that we actually have a viable world-wide rugby league to be able to sell to the world of sport,” he said.

“In my opinion it’s fragmented, it’s all over the place, nothing ever ties together and nobody really takes an interest in the totality of the game.”

Richardson points to the “farce” over selection for Friday’s mid-season representative game between England and the Combined Nations All Stars to illustrate his point about the split in the game and says the two governing bodies, Super League Europe and the Rugby Football League, should cede control to a body modelled on the independent commission which now runs the game in Australia.

“Everybody would have to go,” he said. “It has got to start from an independent commission so people can believe they are listened to and the best structure is put in place to make sure it’s commercially viable. It’s not viable under its current fractured state.

“Nine years ago we set up the independent commission (in the NRL) and a structure was put in place where clubs did not control the day-to-day running of the game and where decisions could be made about the betterment of the game.”

Richardson, who is involved in the bid for a 17th team to join the NRL, says outside funding would be required but insists no investors would be interested in getting involved in the English game as it stands now.

While the NRL has evolved, Richardson says the English game has failed to move with the times since he left his role with Hull at the end of the 2001 season.

“I thought the game would grow but it’s gone backwards and the reason for that is that it’s the same model,” he said. “In 21 years there’s been no change. What business in the world goes on without change?

“It makes me sick to the guts to think that the game is going to go backwards at the rate it is.

“Let’s be honest, this game on Friday night is one of the great farces in the world of international sport and you see a team like Huddersfield naming 13 players for a match.

“I reckon you’ve got two years to fix it. If you don’t fix it in two years, I’m not sure where your television deal is going to be.

“You’re going to become a semi-amateur game if you don’t, in the next two years, have a plan in place that you can sell to investors.

“There are people who would invest in clubs if they were more viable. Why would you buy into Super League at the moment the way it is?

“People need to put the egos aside. It’s alright saying ‘I love the game’ but you’re loving it to death.”

One idea from Richardson is to have a 10-team competition based on the needs of television, which he feels should include Newcastle and Wales and two overseas teams, mostly likely from France.

“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “My plan is to start a conversation.”

17 Comments

  1. Very true the game is dying on its feet the amministration need to get their heads out of the own backsides and move the game on.
    Some of the televised games and the stadiums are a absolute joke how can you promote this game when some grounds are a sight for the 1930 in fact I don’t know how some grounds get a safety certification.
    It’s a wonderful professional game being run by amateur administrators.

  2. Won’t happen, Wigan, Leeds, St Helens won’t allow it.

    Too much self interest in the game for it to develop. The game is dying a long slow drawn out death, it wouldn’t surprise me if inside a decade a few clubs go cap in hand to the RFU begging to be admitted.

  3. Richardson speaks Truth to Power. Professional Rugby League in the northern hemisphere is facing extinction due to the continued mis-management of the game. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. Before the TV deal ends RL needs to organize itself into a better product offering. A 12 team competition including 2 French teams ring fenced from relegation, no salary cap and automatic promotion and relegation in order to rid the top tier of non-viable clubs.

    A plan should also be put in place to expand to 14 teams by including 2 North American clubs ring fenced from relegation. We are in the entertainment industry, so offer some entertainment. If not then Leeds, St Helens and Catalans should give up and apply to join the NRL or Kick and Clap. Enough is enough.

    • The game needs a shake up no doubt, but don’t see the obsession with North American teams. If a fake team just started from scratch with no fan base and no history of playing the game has been done once it’s been done 10-20 times and failed. Paris anyone? Celtic Crusaders? The organic growth shown by Toulouse and to a leaser extent Newcastle should be the model the game is looking for. Teams from the other side of the world is just ridiculous – it doesn’t happen in any other sport and stinks of desperation. If the sport is so good, let it grow from within not artificially.

    • Not this shit again. They did that for multiple years, and it did nothing to better the game. All that eliminating pro-rel is going to do is get the supporters of the excluded clubs to stop watching. That will be a death blow. You know what other comps don’t have pro-rel? UK basketball and UK ice hockey.

      Here’s a better idea: If a club gets promoted to Super League, they are exempt from immediate relegation for the next year. Meaning that if it ranks last, then the second-to-last gets relegated instead.

      I agree with increasing the teams to 14, with two of those slots guaranteed for non-English clubs. Meaning that if situation arises that a non-English club is expected to be relegated leaving one or less non-English clubs in SL, then it is exempted from relegation and that burden goes to the lowest-ranked English club.

      Now that is a compromise that touches all bases without destroying the game.

  4. The game is dead from top to bottom. Whether it’s less kids playing, meaning 40+ year olds can still get paid in the Champ or the game on Friday. Anyone who disagrees is in denial.

  5. What Rugby League needs most of all in order to grow is a terrestrial TV platform. A sky game has an audience of maybe 250,000 (most if whom are already fans if the game) A challenge cup game on BBC pulls two or three Million viewers, not all of who are converts to the game. Sky pay more for Broadcast rights than any Terrestrial TV broadcaster would or could, so the challenge of how to bridge the funding gap in order to maintain a full time viable competition broadcast to as many people as possible is where the focus should be.

  6. Firstly the NRL is light years ahead of the British game due to the fact they have TV contract worth billions of dollars.
    Secondly there are very few schools playing rugby league amateur clubs are struggling for players,youth teams are only in heartland areas where parents are steeped in rugby league new areas are not being targeted,where the RFL show no interest.
    Without kids playing the game it will die a slow painful death.
    The RFL has and always be an old boys network,negative thinking always with knee jerk decisions made on the run.
    Mr Richardson us 100%correct in everything he states in his report.
    Act now or face the future without a game!

  7. Although I agree, I wonder which current Super League teams would be included.

    I assume Leigh, Salford, Wakefield and one of Castleford/Leeds/Hull KR will be expected to stand aside. Possibly more if it were to start with 10

  8. My question is who would appoint the independent commission and who would staff it, people from within the game or ‘fresh faces’?
    I agree that the England game was a farce. Football has a blank weekend when there is an international but rugby league decide it’s a good idea to have a full round of matches!!!!!!!
    Also in the interest of player safety regards playing too many games it was decided to ditch the usualEaster programme of playing 3 games in 10 days (or so).
    But look at the fixtures now. 12 games in 8 weeks.
    It’s bloody bonkers.
    I can only see our great game disappearing from the sporting calendar as our opposition (Union of course) goes from strength to strength.
    I despair.

  9. Using Huddersfield as an example is stupid we are in the grip of a pandemic players have to isolate or hadn’t he noticed I agree something needs to be done maybe not appointing idiots to run rugby would help and to give the Championship and other teams more representation it just seems to be the top tier of Super League who are deciding what’s best for rugby league I have no answers but such as Shane Richardson spout will not help !

  10. If there is to be an independent commission, that should be the “RFL” itself. With the newly-created entity taking charge of the Championship and League One.
    RFL is the mother of the sport. Taking its identity away ruins the history and identity of what makes Rugby League…”Rugby League”

    That being said, the way to fix the game is:
    1. Better organization and planning, both domestically and internationally.

    3. Doing everything possible to grow the game in the Balkans, Turkey and Jamaica where there is already grassroots play and serious potential to change the sport’s fate worldwide if it takes off. The ripple effect would be tremendous.

    2. Better marketing, branding and promotion. That includes bringing big money investors in. Eddie Hearn a few years ago showed interest in taking the sport to the next level and compared it to what his father did with professional darts. What happened to that?
    You’ve got RU airing competitions on Amazon Prime for multi-million dollar deals, and RL can’t make any deals with streaming services? How hard is it to approach Netflix, perhaps RL could be the first sport they carry? Every other streaming service carries sport now, so they could definitely benefit from getting something for cheap.
    Super League and Championship need make it that every game that’s played (i.e. matches not aired on Sky or BBC) is recorded in professional quality so that it doesn’t look like an amateur game. That means investing in better camera and audio equipment and crew.

    • Rugby league lost it’s way when sky took over and had a vision of super league europe.it hasn’t worked.there has been limited success with catalan where the game was already very strong.all attempts to expand the game in britain outside the traditional heartlands have failed.the game should have been developed at grass roots level with proper structures giving a fairer competition not dominated by a handful of clubs.look at how rugby union has flourished in the last 20 years.i fear our game has been left behind and there doesn’t appear any solutions.

  11. Richardson makes a perfect argument. I would add nothing changed in 50 years and also that zero changed by going full time as the RL brain didn’t change.
    No ashes for 50 years far too long and nothing done. England RU bossing rugby at many levels globally we could pick many excellent fringe players from their game and strengthening league

  12. Rugby league lost it’s way when sky took over and had a vision of super league europe.it hasn’t worked.there has been limited success with catalan where the game was already very strong.all attempts to expand the game in britain outside the traditional heartlands have failed.the game should have been developed at grass roots level with proper structures giving a fairer competition not dominated by a handful of clubs.look at how rugby union has flourished in the last 20 years.i fear our game has been left behind and there doesn’t appear any solutions.

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