London Broncos owner hits back at IMG grading & criteria: ‘This needs to be re-looked at’

Ben Olawumi
London Broncos badge, David Hughes

London Broncos owner David Hughes - Alamy

London Broncos owner David Hughes has called for IMG to ‘re-look at’ both the capital outfit’s low grading and the overall criteria being used to rank clubs across the country.

After winning promotion against the odds via the Championship play-offs, the Broncos will spend 2024 in Super League, this their first year at the top table since 2019.

But before they even begin the campaign, they know that whatever happens, they’re all but nailed on to be demoted come the end of it.

That’s thanks to a dismally low initial grading from IMG, who placed them 24th out of 35 professional clubs across the top three tiers of British rugby league.

London Broncos owner David Hughes hits back at IMG grading & criteria: ‘This needs to be re-looked at’

Above the Broncos in the initial gradings were 11 clubs who will be in the Championship this term, and even Newcastle Thunder who will compete in League 1 having just about overcome some huge financial challenges.

Those initial gradings came back in November, and two months on, London have provided a response. Unsurprisingly, the club from the capital aren’t exactly best pleased about their assessment, and believe things must change.

In a statement, chief Hughes said: “Our promotion last year was a magnificent achievement and it should have put us back in a position to push the club forward and to grow the sport in the country’s capital.

“However, instead of planning for the future where we can once again establish ourselves in Super League, we find ourselves being graded on the last three years – which have arguably been the toughest in the club’s history.

“London Broncos have been in Super League for 21 out of the 28 years of its existence. London Broncos were relegated from Super League in 2019 the same year in which the COVID pandemic struck the globe. Relegation and the pandemic forced the club to become part-time, a very difficult but necessary financial decision.

“During this period, clubs have since fallen into financial troubles, with some going into administration and others disappearing altogether. At no point have we suffered such issues yet some of those clubs receive a higher score for finances than ourselves.

“We are incredibly proud to represent London however, playing rugby league in London is a difficult proposition compared to the north. We have taken rugby league to communities in East London (Charlton), North London (Barnet), and South West London (Ealing, Brentford, Twickenham and Wimbledon).

“We have worked tirelessly within our community to discover talent and create a pathway to professional rugby league. In a part of the world which is dominated by other sports, in particular rugby union, we have been very successful.

“We have helped to produce countless players who now ply their trade in Super League and even current England players (Mike McMeeken & Kai Pearce Paul) have come through our academy.

“In last season’s Championship winning squad there was just one person who was born in the north of the country – that was the head coach Mike Eccles.

We made the difficult decision not to run our academy in 2024 – a decision that was made with the new IMG grading criteria in mind. We will instead run a new ‘Lions Development’ programme which will still see us create a pathway for youngsters in London and the surrounding areas.

“Within the IMG grading criteria there is no direct reward for having an academy and producing players. We all share the same ambition to grow the sport, so why would this not be included in the criteria yet something like the amount of social media followers a team has is?”

Broncos ’embracing the challenges’ of helping to grow rugby league as chief calls for promotion and relegation to return

London’s average attendance at their Plough Lane home, shared with football landlords AFC Wimbledon, in 2023 was just under 2,000. Relegated Wakefield Trinity had the lowest average attendance in Super League last year, though their figure of 4,319 was still double that achieved by the Broncos.

Nonetheless, the club from the capital insist they’re just getting started in a re-building plan, with Hughes insisting that the right thing to do is to bring back automatic promotion and relegation dependent on on-field performance.

He continued: “We embrace the challenges that we face by being the only professional club south of the midlands and the only Super League club south of Castleford (in the UK).

“We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to establish the club and sport within London. However, there can be no denying that due to its size and population London’s potential remains as big as it has ever been.

“Yet despite being in London and being the only professional club in the south of the country, we were awarded the lowest possible score for our catchment area. This needs to be re-looked at.

“Promotion and relegation should be a staple of all sports. We are proud of this tradition whereas in other countries promotion and relegation is not always the case. It’s what brings the excitement to sport!

“Condemning a club to relegation before a ball has even been kicked takes away the jeopardy and drama that makes the millions tune in week on week, year after year.

“If London Broncos finish the 2024 season in 11th place or higher, there has to be a scenario in place in which we stay in the division. We all share the same goal of improving rugby league and we are aware that in scenarios like this it is impossible to universally please everyone.

“London Broncos want to work with IMG to improve as a club and we continue to have the long term aim of achieving a Grade A status – but we also urge IMG to consider the points being put to them by the many clubs who have raised similar concerns.

“This is not to act as a moan but simply to once again open up the conversation about the criteria being put forward by IMG as how to grow but protect the sport in which we all love.”

READ NEXT: Super League+ prices confirmed as RL Commercial today launch new streaming service