IMG recommends return to licensing for Super League

James Gordon

IMG has recommended a return to a form of licensing for Super League, as part of its first reimagining rugby league consultation.

The global organisation was brought in to assess the sport as part of a 12-year strategic partnership.

Eight years since licensing was scrapped for the Super 8s format, the assessment of clubs on and off the field to determine their off-field status is set to return.

Replacing automatic promotion and relegation would be an annual assessment of clubs, with the highest-ranked clubs then taking their place at the top table.

So-called “Category A” clubs would be protected against any relegation, and be guaranteed their place in Super League, and the number of clubs outside the UK will be capped.

The grading system, details of which haven’t yet been revealed, would aim to support financial sustainability and encourage investment.

In previous licensing eras, this has included elements such as stadium facilities, youth development and infrastructure.

This was assessed over three year periods, with clubs outside the top flight needing to achieve certain on-field criteria.

There has been nothing yet on the number of clubs in the structure, though an acknowledgement that promotion and relegation would exist between the second and third tier suggests that the previously feared cutting away of League 1 may not be the case.

Clubs were presented with the recommendations on Wednesday morning, and these will be followed up with another meeting on October 13 to provide further feedback.

SURVEY: The key questions being asked in IMG’s survey of rugby league

IMG’s recommendations

The recommendations come following a consultation period with stakeholders of rugby league, including clubs, broadcasters, sponsors, players and supporters, which attracted almost 20,000 responses.

In summary the recommendations are:

  • – A re-positioned calendar which optimises flow, narrative and engagement, incorporating regular ‘peaks’ of interest and a compelling season climax.
  • – A calendar aligned with the global game to facilitate an international window in October and incorporate a mid-season international.
  • – Participation in the top tier to be based on a range of on and off field measures, delivered through a club grading system with the aim of supporting financial sustainability and encouraging investment into clubs.  ‘Category A’ clubs will be guaranteed participation in the top tier whilst ‘Category B’ clubs will be re-assessed annually with the highest-ranking clubs occupying the remaining slots in the top tier.
  • – Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers with tier two increasingly filled with strong Category B Clubs.
  • – An expansion strategy to be developed that targets and supports the growth of the Women’s and Girls’ game, and also growth in new markets.
  • – Participation of clubs outside of the UK to be capped and with additional standards to support domestic growth.
  • – Operations to be centralised where this can maximise efficiencies and drive incremental revenue (e.g. ticketing and digital infrastructure).
  • – A new brand strategy to be introduced and aligned with the above commercial strategy.

      What the key figures said

      Simon Johnson, the Chair of the Rugby Football League, said: “This is a significant day in terms of setting out a new path for the sport. We have prioritised transparency, in sharing these recommendations first with clubs and then with fans through the media.

      “It is very much a direction of travel in these top-line recommendations, with significant layers of detail still to be worked through. But these proposals contain both a recognition of the need to make significant changes to address a range of challenges facing the sport at all levels, and recommendations for those changes which have the potential to transform the approach, mood and reality of Rugby League in the UK and beyond.”

      Ken Davy, the Chair of Super League (Europe), said: “Founded solidly on the realignment of Super League and the RFL this has been an all-encompassing process conducted by IMG, with all of the key stakeholders within the sport playing important roles in it.

      “We would like to thank the clubs, broadcasters, commercial partners and supporters that have contributed to IMG’s recommendations, which set out a new future for Rugby League and can take it in a bold and positive direction. At Super League we look forward to the next stage of this comprehensive process, working towards providing further updates that will map out the sport’s long-term future.”

      Matt Dwyer, Vice President, Sports Management, IMG, added: “Having now had the opportunity to dive deeper into the sport, including through consultations with all key stakeholders of the game, our excitement for this 12-year strategic partnership and what can be achieved has only increased.

      “We have a unique opportunity to alter the growth trajectory of the sport and we believe the recommendations we have presented today will provide the foundation for that growth and attract new investment into the game. Our approach is focused on the product and leveraging the full expertise of IMG and the broader Endeavor network to create a high-quality entertainment offering for the fans.”