English rugby league is set to be taken in a new direction with sports management company IMG set to transform the commercial side of the sport, and the company have made a further statement today as we head into the 2023 season.
It was announced last year the the global marketing agents would become involved and in uniting with the RFL and Super League they have formed RL Commercial, which as the name suggests is keen to look after all things commercial in the sport.
The 12-year partnership will bring in a new era of rugby league with the company keen to focus on grading for clubs, with set criteria determining which grade a club receives, and therefore which tier of the sport it can play in.
A meeting of the board on January 16th was presided over by chair Frank Slevin and IMG Media Head of Sport Ed Mallaburn present as well.
They were joined by Simon Johnson, the Chair of the RFL; Anna Chanduvi, the Sports and Entertainment Media Partnerships Lead at Meta; Peter Hutton, a vastly experienced sports media specialist who has held senior roles with Eurosport, Fox Sports and most recently Meta; and Jonathan Murphy, the CEO of the listed medical property specialists Assura who is also Chair of the North West Business Leadership Team.
Slevin said: “We have assembled a high-calibre Board which offers a wide range of experience and expertise, and our first in-person meeting reflected a common desire to drive Rugby League to fulfil its commercial potential.
“It was important that we hit the ground running ahead of the February start to the 2023 season, and with memories still fresh of the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn of 2022.
“RL Commercial was born from the realignment of the sport which allows us to build on the successes of the World Cup, where we saw the value of the Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair competitions running in parallel.
“We are determined to continue that momentum as we look forward to celebrating the inclusivity of our Super League and Challenge Cup competitions – in each case with Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair competitions, and not forgetting the Physical Disability and Learning Disability Super Leagues.
“That determination will be obvious when the 2023 competitions are formally launched over the coming weeks.”
With the meeting concluded it’s been confirmed that clubs have been informed of the next stages of their ‘Reimagining Rugby League’ programme.
Grading criteria will be presented at a Special General Meeting on March 9th.
A further vote will then take place on April 19th, by which point fans could learn what the future looks like under IMG.
IMG will likely use crowd size as one of their criteria. They will likely ask clubs to aim for an average of around 10,000 per game. However, the current average attendances in Super League could mean that this target would be lofty even for some of the top clubs with only Leeds Rhinos having more than 10,000 at every game in 2022.
Social Media Presence
They will also expect clubs to have a strong social media presence on the likes of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
Distance from other clubs
It is likely that IMG will prioritise clubs who are a fair old distance away from other sides in order to spread the game potentially beyond the M62 corridor. This could favour teams like London moving forward.
The next generation of talent is crucial to any sport and thus IMG could ask clubs to have strong and successful academies to generate the stars of the future. Thus, Castleford Tigers’ recent success in gaining an elite licence will stand them in a better position.
Stadium and Facilities
As will the work they’re about to begin on the Jungle. Likewise Wakefield Trinity will likely impress IMG with their redeveloped ground with IMG likely looking for a certain level of quality when it comes to stadiums and facilities.
Game Day Experience
As we have recently seen from the Leigh Leopards, game day experience is important in any sport building an atmosphere is essential and they will do that by playing host to Scouting For Girls in Round One.
On field performance
At the end of the day, on field performance has to be considered. There’s no use having a side in an elite competition that isn’t there to compete.