Thoughts on the Championship re-brand

Details are gradually starting to emerge about how the Championships could be rebranded at the end of the season. Like many fans I sent my response to the RFL when there was the consultation period before Christmas, I committed my thoughts to paper as well but I’m prepared to type more about the subject.

Currently the Championships consist of 21 clubs split over two divisions and operating play-offs, promotion and relegation.

The Championship this season consists of 10 English clubs and French side Toulouse Olympique while after the demise of Blackpool Panthers, Championship One has just 10 clubs amongst it’s number including outpost clubs Gateshead Thunder, London Skolars and South Wales Scorpions.

I received an interesting press release from the RFL about this very subject which I’ll share now:

Clubs consulted over Championship review plans

A consultation paper which will form the basis of exciting, evolutionary changes to the divisional structure of Rugby League below Super League level has been circulated to Championship clubs.

The ‘Draft Championship Review Proposals’ document is the latest phase in the ongoing consultation process which aims to produce a competition model for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Once clubs have provided their feedback on the proposals, the RFL plans to have final ratification in March 2011 to allow sufficient time to implement a structure which will create the best, most viable and competitive semi-professional competition possible from next year.

The 21 Championship clubs have already played an important role in the new proposals, which were drawn up following extensive consultation which also involved supporters, the Rugby League Players Association, sponsors, the media and other sporting governing bodies.

Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s Chief Operating Officer, believes the proposals will allow the sport to grow from a strong base and reward the clubs who make the most positive contribution to Rugby League.

“I’m very excited by the Championship review proposals because I have no doubts that the changes we will ultimately implement will produce a structure that allows every Rugby League club to realise its potential,” said Rimmer.

“The proposals cover all the issues which affect both the clubs and the sport itself, including financial and structural stability, expansion, participation, promotion and relegation, investment and infrastructure and competition nomenclature.

“We are expecting to receive comprehensive feedback from the clubs, not least because the proposals will be perceived in some quarters as being revolutionary, rather than evolutionary.

“There are indeed some radical changes in there but I have no doubt that these proposals will allow the RFL to maximise the return on its investment and improve the stability of clubs by encouraging stronger business management.”

The RFL has invested record sums in the Championships in recent years and though central funding to all clubs will continue, under the proposals the size of distributions will be more performance related against factors such as a club’s contribution to the sport and its business management.

“It is right and proper that clubs which consistently make positive contributions to their communities, who have clearly defined and recognised player development pathways and are run on sound business principles are rewarded,” added Rimmer.

Under the new proposals, the Championship could be expanded to a 14-team competition with entry dependent on clubs meeting a series of stringent criteria based on minimum standards. The size of the Championship will determine how many clubs participate in Championship One but the RFL will actively seek expressions of interest from clubs currently playing outside Championship level to join the third tier competition.

It is proposed that promotion and relegation between the Championship and Championship One will continue between 2012 and 2014, after which the RFL could also consider promotion and relegation between Championship One and the Conference Leagues, again dependent on clubs meeting minimum standards.

Cup competitions, including the Northern Rail Cup, which kicks off this week, will remain an integral part of any new structure but are likely to move to within the Championships season.

“The Northern Rail Cup is a valuable feature of the season for all Championships clubs and I envisage that will continue in the new structure: we want to give players as many opportunities as possible to play in semi-finals and finals,” said Rimmer.

“The next step after this consultation period with stakeholders is to ratify these proposals at an RFL board meeting in March.

“We will then seek expressions of interest from clubs who wish to play in Championship One in 2012 and from those who aspire for entry in the following three seasons.

“The RFL will then investigate these aspirant clubs thoroughly in order to establish whether they have the quality and infrastructures to enter. By September of this year we hope to be in a position to announce the names of the clubs who will compete in the Championships in 2012.

“This is a very exciting time for Rugby League with the Championship Review taking place alongside the ongoing Super League licensing and the Four Seasons review into the community game structure, all of which are inextricably interlinked.

“The Championship review, Super League licensing and the Four Seasons review all share the common aim of giving every individual and every club in Rugby League the opportunity to be the best they can be.

“Whilst some of the proposals in the Championship review are thought provoking, no-one should lose sight of that goal.”

All very interesting yes?

I’m not sure what to make of certain minimum standards that have been put out in the Rugby League trade press.

200 seats could see a club able to host Championship One fixtures while a 3,000 capacity is the figure mentioned for theChampionship. As one article pointed out this could prove a slap in the teeth for Oldham who have tried so hard for many years to get a ground they can call home and now the one they occupy has a working capacity of around 1500.

As you can imagine there is a lot of speculation at the moment and I’m sure the RFL will make it fully available in time. I just hope they get it right.

There is talk of increasing the Championship to 12 or 14 teams and Championship One would be a 10 or 12 team competition. At top capacity that would mean another 5 clubs could potentially join and in a future blog I may look at who the teams to consider may be.

For now though, the RFL has a good competition in the Championship and this season should be another corker. I hope the changes are for the right reasons. Certainly if Widnes are the lucky team to move up to Super League as expected, finances at a number of clubs in the Championship will take a hit, so a potential extra three clubs will certainly help there.

For me, it is still about what will become of the teams in the lower echelon? Will this become a graveyard for clubs unable to move into the Championship or a playground for expansion clubs?

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