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Rugby league mergers may have to happen for the sake of the sport, according to Hull chairman

Rugby league is at something of a crossroads.

With restructuring very much at the core of debates alongside where further investment will come from, Hull FC chairman Adam Pearson has spoken up about the state of the game.

Pearson, who has been in charge at Hull for 11 years, told the BBC 5 Live Rugby League podcast that, without change, the sport could die.

“It’s now or never for me this summer,” Pearson said.

“We’re working now pretty cohesively behind the scenes. We’ve got some experience now looking at the game, and I think in the next two to three months the strategy will finally come to the fore, be published and agreed and hopefully save the game.

“We need to launch a product that is going to attract the next generation – there are some interesting ideas coming in.

“What The Hundred has done for cricket, its saturation of coverage and the gates and the excitement, we have to find a similar concept in rugby league, alongside the traditional format otherwise we’re dead.

“If it includes merged clubs, it includes merged clubs – we have to consider it.

“Obviously it would be a huge scrap in Hull to merge the clubs, but I’ve got six years left on my lease at the stadium and I don’t know what I’m going to do then.”

Amongst those conversations about the future of the sport is the lack of serious investment in rugby league.

One such solution has been to call on private equity – an idea which received hostility, but one which Pearson is in full support of.

“We need to find the right partner from a sports background,” Pearson stated.

“If you get private equity from the right sports background, who wants to say pump in, say, £90 million to £100 million for 30% of Super League – let’s get that money in.

“Every sport is taking money from private equity – CVC has pumped in hundreds and hundreds of millions into rugby union.

“We’ve not taken a penny yet in rugby league, so, we just need to find the right partner.

“We need expertise into marketing, into commercial, into sponsorship, into advertising. These modern PE (Private Equity) funds that are dealing with sporting sectors and sporting brands can offer that.

“And if we don’t harness the kind of specific support that other sports are getting, we’re going to be lost.

“We’re not at the forefront executive wise, we’re not at the forefront ideas wise, and we’re not looking at every other sport and cherry-picking ideas like these guys are.

“I think it’s £600m now into rugby union. We could relaunch our entire sport with that. Even if we got a third of it, we’d still be knocking on rugby union’s door.”

There had been interest in buying a stake in Super League from a private equity firm before – Novalpina Capital –  but they were wound up.

Super League interim chairman Ken Davy had talked about the future of the sport in July, stating that the sport would not be handed over to a private equity firm. And, that proved to be an incredibly wise decision.

But, is it the direction that is needed for the sake of rugby league? Pearson certainly thinks so.

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