Championship club reveal six-figure central funding cut as reminder of stark reality of life outside Super League

James Gordon
Heywood Road, Swinton Lions

Heywood Road, the home of Swinton Lions - Alamy

The financial challenges facing lower league clubs have been evidenced in two separate statements to fans this week.

Swinton Lions revealed that their central funding allocation has decreased £150,000 since 2021, and that their current running costs are on average in excess of £10,000 per week.

The Greater Manchester outfit say that it is a ‘constant daily challenge’ for them to meet the significant financial cost of operating a semi-professional rugby league club.

Director Steve Wild told their club website: “We aren’t just a rugby league club, we are a decent sized business in every respect, playing in a highly regulated sport, with all the challenges of a regular business aside from our rugby league playing activities.

“With such eye-watering numbers to contend with, you’ll fully understand why we value our Supporters Trust, the Pridebuilder scheme, our season ticket holders and our regular supporters.

“But if only we could double our gates, we would be in an entirely different place! This brings me briefly to the fresh challenges brought about by the IMG grading system, which recently saw us narrowly miss out on being graded as a ‘B’ club rather than a ‘C’.

“We recognise that the grading system is designed to improve standards and in that respect we are happy to meet the challenges ahead.”

Championship club Swinton Lions reveal six-figure central funding cut as reminder of stark reality of life outside Super League

However, their statement also highlighted a large number of positives as Swinton aim to keep their fans up to date with what’s going on at the club.

A new lease has been agreed to extend their stay at Sale FC’s Heywood Road until at least the end of 2025, and they have also revealed community and commercial initiatives in the local area.

On the field, they have recruited impressively under new head coach Alan Kilshaw, bringing in the likes of Rhys Williams, Dec Patton and George Roby.

Wild added: “Obviously the usual doubters in the RL media will write us off before a ball is kicked, but I’m more than confident that we will prove a handful for every opposition we come across.

“It’s often forgotten that at the root of all of our operations – be it with players, staff, sponsors, other clubs etc. – we have had to work hard to create personal relationships based on trust and respect.

“These things rarely just fall into your lap. Examples are our superb working relationship with Sale FC, and also our brilliant friendship with St Helens, which will surely reap dividends on the pitch in 2024.”

League 1 outfit Hunslet announce £45,000 loss for year ending November 2023, but remain unconcerned

Central funding has decreased sharply in recent years, owing to a decline in the TV deal with Sky Sports that helps to underpin the handouts across the game.

It has seen League 1 lose clubs like West Wales Raiders and London Skolars, while making it an increasingly difficult battle for clubs at that level to survive.

One of those third tier clubs, Hunslet, have revealed a £45,000 loss for the year ending November 2023, though say they are not concerned.

Via the Parksiders’ club website, Chief Executive Neil Hampshire revealed that they had budgeted for a loss as they pushed for promotion to the Championship, finishing second but losing out in the play-offs.

Hampshire said: “Our medium-term strategy had seen us plan for this loss as we invested more into the playing squad in 2023.

“We had posted profits for the previous three years, and it was a conscious decision to use our reserves for a concerted promotion bid. We are in relatively good financial shape, but take nothing for granted. We have kept the same playing budget for 2024.

“We know there will be clubs that have spent more, but we are confident we will be in the mix come the end of the season.”

Despite ongoing uncertainty over the future of the divisions outside of Super League, it appears that clubs are now adjusting to the reality of significantly less central funding than has been almost taken for granted in the past two decades.

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