How to fix rugby league – Part 3

What the RFL must learn from other competitions around the world if it wants to save Rugby League in Europe.

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

Part 2 ended with a discussion over three key franchise elements – shared revenue, marketing and a draft system.

Let’s start with the simplest: shared revenue. The theory goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and that’s the thinking behind revenue sharing. Clubs that continued to be a drain on the system could see their licence taken away as an incentive to the smaller sides to go out and develop their own revenue streams. It’s all well and good for Wigan and Leeds to make packets of cash but they need sides to play against. Revenue sharing would not only see to this but, if it helped grow the popularity of rugby league could see more money flow in then ever before. This can only be a good thing – unless you’re of the opinion that a small struggling competition where players play too many games is a better idea.

With shared revenue comes shared marketing. Major League Baseball  has a single website where even the mighty New York Yankees’ web presence is, when it’s all boiled down, a microsite of MLB.com. Why are clubs, that struggle to break even all paying to rehash press releases from the RFL when central news should be the main focus of the RFL page? More estoric club-specific things should be the remit of the team pages. If all the team sites came under a single unified banner, traffic across all sites would rise. Team wear could be offered as a single contract, which then becomes more profitable to the manufactures and therefore more attractive to them, meaning the individual clubs again would benefit. The same could apply to sponsorship. The exposure a single brand would get is worth much more than the collective value of the individual deals clubs’ currently enjoy. People tend to stick with the same five or six sites when online and making your site one of those is the goal of many a marketeer.

The draft system is perhaps the most controversial, although collective ownership of the league could be considered equally revolutionary, but more on that in a bit.

Currently the Superleague operates under a franchise system where only a few sides outside it ever have a realistic chance of getting in. Under this new system these clubs would be automatically promoted in an expanded competition. The remaining teams, should they wish, would form a developmental league funded in large by the new improved SL. Simply put, it is from here that players would be drafted into Superleague. 

Before teams report to pre-season training a draft would take place, in reverse order to where sides finished the previous season and operated much like the NFL system (players taken in certain rounds or overall picks are guaranteed certain minimum contracts and draft slots can be traded). This would help stop the cycle of teams dominating the competition for years on end by virtue of the superior wealth generated by their dominance and would encourage clubs to take long term views with the development of youngsters – as picks would be guaranteed contracts, clubs, who have invested in them, will be forced to back these picks rather than rely on stop-gap ageing internationals. 

Clubs in the tier below would see their best young stars leave for the top flight, that is already the case now, but would benefit from the income generated by SL. To stop the stock piling of players, squad sizes would be limited leaving plenty of talent to fill teams in the developmental league.

Lastly, you’ll be glad to read, we come to how this would all be kept going and how do we stop clubs from trying to split back into the predictable “big clubs win, small clubs lose” system we have now. The answer is to follow what the MLS did in America: shared ownership. Rather than having one owner one club, though that would come later as the competition strengthened, we would be invite owners to take shares in the league and granted stewardship over clubs. Now I’m not asking Mr Lenagan to hand over the keys to Wigan castle but rather to invite him to become an owner in the new league. Should there be a surfeit of wealthy individuals looking to invest in this new SL and looking to take on a franchise in a new area, then they would do so with the full support and backing of the league and given the time and resources needed to become successful.

So I ask you again: what would you prefer? A system where the same teams dominate the league year after year, that has failed to produce a strong national team for a generation and where many of the smaller sides face the prospect of financial ruin. Or would you rather a level competition where clubs are incentivised to develop squads based on promising youngsters educated in rugby at well funded, well run foundation clubs that no longer have to worry about financial stability. Where fans of all teams can dream of one day winning Superleague and where our elite players are giving further  sessions with the country’s top coaches and battle-hardened over a series of brutal encounters in order to be selected to the England team. 

Would you prefer club led expansion and an international calender made up against sides with no domestic professional sides or a central plan to see more players involved in the game and where youngsters from Scotland and Ireland have a shot of playing league professionally in their own country?

I know what I’d prefer.

We published this three-part article because it offered some radical viewpoints (views which Love Rugby League doesn’t necessarily agree with!) and it provides interesting suggestions as to how improve the greatest game.

What do you think?

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