Cumbrian club reveal reasons for voting against IMG proposals

James Gordon

Photo courtesy of Barrow Raiders.

Barrow have enjoyed success in recent years, winning the League 1 title and reaching the top four of the Championship in their first season back in the second tier.

Their work off the field has seen improved crowds, a growing community foundation and lots of non-match day events that have earned widespread admiration from peer clubs.

So it was maybe a surprise to see their name within the list of clubs who voted against the IMG proposals in Huddersfield on Wednesday.

Chairman Steve Neale has since issued a statement clarifying their position, and highlighted a key area where he felt clubs had been let down.

The statement read: “In terms of the goals of IMG and the RFL we are very much in favour. It is common sense that we want the best clubs in Super League that are able to generate the most revenue. The best clubs inevitably will have the best crowds, have a large digital footprint, are able to attract more TV subscribers, are financially viable and have strong links to the community.

“We are supportive of IMG and the RFL and their ambition to create a system that those clubs play at the top level.

“However, we do not believe that the grading structure should be the mechanism to achieve that. We are strong believers in minimum standards being applied as the vehicle to ensure that the best clubs compete at the top.

“Once minimum  standards have been achieved then success on the field should be the criteria for deciding promotion and relegation. We believe the whole essence of sport will be eroded with promotion by spreadsheet and there is a risk that we will turn off our key stakeholders, the fans.

“Barrow Raiders were disappointed, despite repeated requests, that we were denied access to the detail of the proposals. We wanted to be re-assured that a club such as Leigh, who have been a breath of fresh air for Super League this season, would not have been denied promotion under the scoring system.

“We are under no illusion that Barrow Raiders would not be a grade A club despite our growing crowds, fantastic work in the community and our commitment to the Women’s game but we were promised transparency at the start of the process.

“We were told that we would be able to attract investors because we would know exactly what we needed to improve to become an A-grade club.

“Unfortunately with the lack of detail in the proposal that transparency has yet to emerge. We had hoped we would have sight of the detail before the vote.”

Focus on marketing the game

Neale added that he believes rugby league should be utilising the strength of IMG as sports marketers to drive the game forward.

The global firm has signed a 12-year deal with the RFL as a strategic partner, and these proposals were the first in what will no doubt be many recommendations in the next few years.

The statement continued: “Barrow Raiders believe that the focus for IMG should be on marketing the game and creating brand and player awareness. Record crowds in recent rounds of Super League and rising crowds in the Championship suggest our problems are not as large as perceived. It is the marketing of the product that needs attention to attract a wider audience.

“Despite Barrow Raiders rejection of the proposals, now that the vote has been cast, we will not sulk but will work with the RFL to try to make the game a success. We are supportive of the new CEO, Tony Sutton, and we look forward to seeing the detailed plans and then producing our own development plan to try to attract investment to match our ambitions.”

Barrow’s fellow Championship clubs Batley, Featherstone and Keighley also voted against the proposals.

League leaders Featherstone revealed that their decision was due to a lack of assurance over the impact on the Championship Grand Final winners earning promotion, stating that there had been contradictions over any guarantees.

Keighley have been the most vocal opponents to IMG since the announcements were first made, and their co-owner Kaue Garcia read a lengthy passage to all clubs prior to the vote.

Batley’s opposition to the proposals are thought to be centred around the lack of balance in the grading criteria, which chairman Kevin Nicholas says is too heavily weighted in favour of current Super League clubs.

The vote was passed by an initial majority of 86%, though that would have been higher but for mistakes in the voting process made by Salford and London Skolars. The Red Devils abstained, when they intended to vote yes, and Skolars voted against when they meant to abstain.