IMG today presented the recommendations arising from the Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project – a key part of the first phase of the agency’s 12-year strategic partnership with the sport agreed in the spring.
In addition to drawing on IMG’s global expertise, the recommendations have been made following extensive consultation with key stakeholders across Rugby League, including clubs, broadcasters, sponsors, media, players, representatives from the community game and international partners, as well as a survey of supporters attracting almost 20,000 responses. This is the most comprehensive piece of consultation ever undertaken on the sport.
IMG’s recommendations have the overriding aim of driving the long-term value and impact of the sport.
In summary the recommendations are:
- A re-positioned calendar which optimises flow, narrative and engagement, incorporating regular ‘peaks’ of interest and a compelling season climax.
- A calendar aligned with the global game to facilitate an international window in October and incorporate a mid-season international.
- Participation in the top tier to be based on a range of on and off field measures, delivered through a club grading system with the aim of supporting financial sustainability and encouraging investment into clubs. ‘Category A’ clubs will be guaranteed participation in the top tier whilst ‘Category B’ clubs will be re-assessed annually with the highest-ranking clubs occupying the remaining slots in the top tier.
Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers with tier two increasingly filled with strong Category B Clubs.
- An expansion strategy to be developed that targets and supports the growth of the Women’s and Girls’ game, and also growth in new markets.
- Participation of clubs outside of the UK to be capped and with additional standards to support domestic growth.
- Operations to be centralised where this can maximise efficiencies and drive incremental revenue (e.g. ticketing and digital infrastructure).
- A new brand strategy to be introduced and aligned with the above commercial strategy.
Clubs have been invited to a follow-up meeting on October 13, at which they will have the opportunity to provide further feedback, and support will be sought to enable the Rugby League executive and IMG to work on the detail of the recommendations.
One of the less spoken about topics of these recommendations is the new calendar. Not included in the official recommendations is a suggestion that we will see the end to loop fixtures, the Magic Weekend alongside a new date for the Challenge Cup Final.
The Challenge Cup is moving back to August in 2023 after it was held in May this year – the traditional time of year for the Cup Final.
It seems that the cup final could return back to May under these recommendations meaning the early rounds of Super League would work alongside the Challenge Cup rounds as was the case in the early days of Super League.
The supposed end to loop fixtures and the Magic Weekend would see the league season trimmed down to just 22 games meaning Easter would certainly not require any double headers which were set to end in 2023 anyway.
IMG have also suggested that there should be an international window mid-season which could work alongside the NRL’s own window which would become a part of the year by year calendar with internationals set to conclude the calendar after the Super League season.
Here’s what the calendar could look like:
February: Start of Super League
March: Start of Challenge Cup
May: Challenge Cup Final
June: Mid-season international break
September/October: Play-offs and Grand Finals