The preliminary grades from the RFL, as advised upon by IMG, were released yesterday with seven of rugby league’s 35 teams receiving a Grade A but it was Leeds Rhinos who topped the table and have technically become the first ‘IMG champions’.
Of course the rankings are simply a way of determining which teams make up which leagues with IMG and the RFL having stated all along that the intention is for every Super League side to be a Grade A team.
At present there are seven Grade A teams, meaning the rest of Super League will comprise of the highest rated Grade B teams, but how exactly have Leeds Rhinos found themselves top of the tree and as the inaugural, albeit preliminary, IMG champions?
It’s worth stating first that a team can achieve a maximum of twenty points under this new grading criteria and those points are on offer through five separate pillars.
Those pillars, each assigned a percentage, are Performance for 25%, Fandom for 25%, Finances for 22.5%, Stadium for 15% and Community for 12.5%.
Thus far only Hunslet and Bradford have confirmed the breakdown of their points, but using the IMG handbook (available here) then we can work out where the Rhinos picked up their 17.49 points.
The first pillar and one of the two pillars that make up the largest percentage of the overall score is of course performance. Many fans will argue that on field performance should be far higher than 25%, lots would prefer to remove IMG completely and have on field performance as 100%, but going forward it’s worth five points.
Those five points are available via numerous methods but the bulk of them come through a team’s standing in the rugby league pyramid. Simply, the higher you finish then the more points you get.
It’s worth noting that for this metric the average position over the last three seasons is how the figure is calculated but the team that averages out as first scores 4 points, ranging all the way down to the 35th placed team scoring 0.2222.
Leeds finished eighth this past season, second in 2022 (losing in the Grand Final ranks second) and third (highest placed losing semi-finalist) in 2021.
Only Wigan Warriors, St Helens and Catalans Dragons would rank above them on the basis of the past three seasons meaning Rhinos score 3.6667.
Bonus points are attributed for winning the Super League and Challenge Cup, which Leeds didn’t do in any of these three years, meaning Leeds total score for performance should be 3.6667.
Fandom is another segment that scores five points and Leeds easily pick up 2.5 of them by merit of their matchday attendances. An average crowd of 7,500 or more sees teams pick up maximum points of 2.5 for attendance, something Rhinos easily surpass with their 2023 average of over 13,500.
It gets more difficult to calculate beyond their though as it heads to digital fandom but having 500,000 followers or more across social media platforms is worth 0.2 points – another maximum that Leeds easily pick up due to their large online prescence.
Engagement is worth up to 0.8 with any club achieving more than 5 million engagements earning the maximum, something that can only really be calculated via the club’s themselves with IMG’s oversight, however it’s safe to assume the Rhinos score max points once again.
Website visits of more than 60,000 also add another 0.5 points on, whilst vieweship on Sky Sports, Channel 4 and other broadcasts scores is worth a further point.
Considering Leeds are one of the best supported clubs and appear on television up to and beyond ten times a season, it’s safe to say they easily attain maximum points once again.
As such the Rhinos likely score a clean sweep and maximum of five out of five on their fandom pillar.
This is yet another pillar that’s difficult to score without having hard data but it’s one that is guessable, and those guesses could lead to another max points for the Rhinos.
Finance is worth 4.5 points and is split as follows: Non-Centralised Turnover (2.25), Non-Centralised Turnover as a percentage of Total Turnover (0.5), Adjusted Profit (0.5), Balance Sheet Strength (0.5) and Increase in Owner Investment (0.5).
Historically Leeds are one of the best run rugby league clubs and they’ve also just signed a major contract that sees Headingley’s naming rights go to AMT for 15 years.
Financial digging aside for those who aren’t accountants, Leeds will score incredibly highly once again on this metric with maximum points potentially scored again.
Worth a maximum of three points, stadium is another area where the Rhinos excel with the breakdown of scoring favouring them once again.
Facilities Score is worth 1.5 points, Utilisation worth 1, Primacy of Tenure 0.25 whilst LED and a big screen both are worth 0.125 points.
There are nine areas for facilities that include a minimum capacity of 5,000 with 2,000 seated, 200 sponsor seats, 200 corporate seats, a 40 seat director box, area for broadcast parking, studio space, 20 media seats and photographer facilities.
With Headingley being one of the best equipped stadiums in Super League it’s safe to assume a maximum 1.5 points is achieved, as would the 1 for utilisation with the stadium now boasting a hotel and hosting corporate events meaning it’s operational all year round.
Tenure, LED and big screen are all big ticks meaning this is another three points for the Rhinos.
This is the lowest scoring section but again one Leeds dominate, it accounts for the population of your area divided by the number of clubs in your area.
That highlights the captive audience each team has and is why expansion teams outside of the heartlands can score so highly.
For the Rhinos it’s just Hunslet who would be classed as within the Leeds postcode and therefore given the large population of the city the Rhinos would score 1.5 points.
As for the other 1 point available in community, it’s scored by the annual turnover of the foundation and with Leeds having one of the most established foundations they once again would likely hit the maximum points.
Turnover of more than £1 million is required to achieve that.
It would seem therefore that just performance has let the Rhinos down but given that they dropped 2.51 points off the maximum in their official grading, compared to just dropping 1.333 in their performance, then they have potentially fallen short on metrics such as Digital Fandom, something that is hard to guesstimate as an outsider looking in.
Equally it could be the case that they’ve not cordoned off enough corporate seats and therefore lose points on their Stadium but Leeds have all the tools to be a Grade A club and the IMG champions for a long time.
Their major stadium deal and loyal support base will always put them in good stead, if they can return to the form of the golden generation then it’s possible the Rhinos push even closer to the 20 point maximum set by IMG.