Wigan owner Ian Lenagan on Super League, RFL and ‘moving forward in strength’


Wigan owner Ian Lenagan believes the creation of a separate organisation to sell the commercial assets of rugby league can help the game realise its full potential, justifying the breakaway by Super League clubs in 2018.

The formation of a third entity is thought to be the most likely outcome of realignment talks between the Rugby Football League and Super League Europe; which have been going on for the last six months.

The two bodies are set to remain separate. But a new one will be set up to sell the rights to internationals and major events like the Challenge Cup, Super League Grand Final and Magic Weekend.

Lenagan was at the heart of the breakaway from the RFL. Super League clubs sought to wrest back control of their own destiny and increase revenue streams.

There are mixed views over the success of the move. Revenue from the latest two-year television deal with Sky fell from £40million a year to around £25m and Robert Elstone resigned from his role as Super League executive chairman last February.

That saw Huddersfield owner Ken Davy step into the role and his first task was to re-align the two bodies.

“We’ve got people commercially interested in rugby league”

Super League Grand Final trophy

The Super League Grand Final takes place annually at Old Trafford

Lenagan insists the breakaway was needed to redress the balance of central distribution. Super League clubs now get a bigger slice of the cake; and has created a position from which the whole game can now grow.

He said: “The way it’s going with the bringing together of the properties the RFL own and the properties that Super League own can only be good.

“If you have a single approach to the market place with all your properties you will do better.

“Obviously we want the next two years of Sky to result in a better outcome for us.

“But all sports have suffered over the last two years. Rugby union is no better than we are, slightly better in terms of attendance growth; but we can do that without any doubt.

“If we and the governing body continue to come together, that can only be a good thing.

“We’ve come through a difficult time not well because financially we’ve had to take debt on; but we’ve got people commercially interested in rugby league.”

CONTEXT: Re-unification of Super League and RFL still not completed

More transparency in the game now, says Ian Lenagan

Lenagan claims Super League owners were kept in the dark about finances before 2018. He believes there is now more transparency at the heart of the administration.

He said: “If you don’t know that you’re getting 40-odd million and 10 million of it is going to the RFL, make that transparent and get a better balance and move together again.

“If you’ve got 90% of the revenue coming from Super League and 10% coming from the Challenge Cup and the international game, that pretty much tells you what the future should be in terms of distribution of monies.

“We didn’t know that three years ago, we thought it was far higher in the other direction.

“Openness and transparency has been great for this game over the last three years.”

Channel 4 deal a coup for the game

Lenagan also argues that, despite a reduction in income, the latest television deal opened up new markets by making league matches available for terrestrial television and live streaming.

He added: “We would never have got that unless Super League had showed its muscles a little.

“I think the Super League management have brought about changes in the three years of the game itself which are all to the good and we’re moving forward in strength now.”

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