Policy Review FAQs

nigel & blake

Why is the game restructuring its competitions?

In the early stages of last year, the RFL’s non-Executive Directors conducted a comprehensive consultation process with the sport’s stakeholders, the findings of which were published in July 2012 in the Watkins Review of Rugby League Governance, a copy of which can be downloaded here.

The Watkins Review fully endorsed the sport’s existing governance structure whereby a fully independent Board of Directors has responsibility for setting high level vision and strategy which is then delivered by an empowered RFL Executive team.

The Watkins Review also asked the RFL Chief Executive to lead a separate review into the current RFL policies on a range of issues: competition structure and game integration; Super League licensing and promotion/relegation/club sustainability and the appropriate level of RFL support for clubs; youth development and player production systems; expansion of the sport and the RFL’s responsibility for European development.

Many stakeholders across the sport shared the same belief that the current league structure required a review. This position was driven by a concern that annual trading deficits recorded year on year by some Super League clubs were not sustainable and that falling Championship attendances needed to be addressed.

The RFL commissioned sports finance experts KPMG to analyse data from the last decade and prepare a report which should examine the strengths and weaknesses of the current structure and draw conclusions for the future. Since that report was presented, an extensive consultation process has been taking place to assist in the process of developing competition structures which stimulate growth at all levels of Rugby League.

The main thrusts of the Policy Review were as follows:

  • The sport should make the most of all the resources at its disposal at all levels and maximise the return on its investment in players, clubs and competitions;
  • Rugby League requires a competition structure that is appealing to sponsors, broadcast partners and the commercial sector;
  • The governing body should be given more opportunities to deliver the RFL Board’s vision for the sport by spending less time addressing some of the poor decision making at club level;
  • Clubs should stand or fall on their on-field performances, rather than their ability to meet pre-determined administrative criteria;
  • Each tier of the game should benefit from the security of receiving a fixed income.

Does that mean the current league structures are not delivering?

Whilst Super League and the Championships are consistently meeting expectations in most areas, the Policy Review presents an opportunity to build on the strides made in recent years.

One of the areas highlighted in the consultation process was the benefits that a reintroduction of jeopardy into Super League would bring, not just to that competition but across the wider game.

Whilst licensing has brought an enhanced level of stability to Super League, the absence of promotion and relegation on an annual basis has removed a significant degree of excitement and drama from the sport.

It is important to remember how damaging automatic promotion and relegation were to the sport: clubs like Oldham, Halifax. Leigh Centurions and Workington Town are all still suffering from the effects of losing their place in Super League.

However it is clear that the sport would benefit from having more intense contests, fewer fixtures where the result has limited significance and increased levels of uncertainty of outcome.

But promotion and relegation works in football, so why not in Rugby League?

That’s not a like for like comparison. The difference between Premier League and Football League clubs is tiny compared to the gulf between Super League and the Championships. To compete in Super League, a club needs to have a squad of exclusively full-time players backed up by a fully professional coaching and administrative staff; Championship clubs are by necessity semi-professional in nature, both on and off the field.  Making the transition from one to the other is a difficult and protracted process and, as history has demonstrated, unachievable over the course of a few short months.

Wasn’t licensing meant to lay the platform for success?

Licensing was never going to provide a panacea for the game: whilst it has had a largely positive impact on the sport, licensing has been unable to cure every ill, especially in what has been a very difficult economic climate.

Since licensing was introduced in 2009, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of federation-trained and club-trained players and a 50 per cent decrease in non-federation trained players. The quality of club-trained players has also increased, which is acknowledged by the high demand for our players from the NRL and rugby union.

The sport made a commitment to run with licensing for two cycles and has done that; it was always the aim to review the concept midway through the second term of the licensing period, just as we did with the first.  Many of the themes of licensing will be carried over to the new league structures implemented from 2015 but there will be an important shift in emphasis towards performances on the field determining where a club plays, rather than off-field criteria.

Whatever the new competition structure looks like, clubs will still have to meet minimum standards in key areas in line with commercial and broadcast agreements, although greater emphasis will be placed on playing performance. 

Why has the consultation process gone on for so long and when will the process end?

It is essential that as many of the game’s stakeholders as possible are given the opportunity to engage in a process which will determine the future success of the whole sport. The RFL have met with players, coaches, supporters, broadcasters, media and sponsors, among many other groups, to detail the rationale behind the Policy Review and receive important feedback. 

Following the subsequent feedback, an updated series of options were presented to the Super League clubs at a meeting in mid-June and circulated to the Championships clubs and Community Board via email.

The RFL Executive then gave a full presentation on the options to the RL Council AGM at Warrington on Wednesday July 3.

The Super League clubs met to debate the options at a meeting on July 10 and will meet again later in the month; the Championships will meet to consider their position on July 17; and that the Community Board will follow suit on July 24.

Depending on the outcome of those meetings, an Extraordinary General Meeting will then be called at which the RFL’s independent Board of Directors will put forward the definitive proposals for a league structuring that they feel is in the interests of the whole game.

What options are on the table?

The original four options have now been reduced to two after the Super League clubs indicated at their meeting in mid-June that given the prevailing economic climate, remaining as a 14-team competition from 2015 onwards is unfeasible. At their meeting on July 10, the Super League clubs rejected an option of becoming a 10-team competition.

The two options which are currently under consideration are as follows:

  • Option 1: For Super League and the Championships to become 12-team competitions with straight ‘traditional-style’ promotion and relegation on an annual basis;
  • Option 2: Two divisions of 12 teams which split after 23 rounds into a qualifying play-off series comprising three groups of eight clubs.

How would Option 1 (2x12 with automatic P+R) work?

This option is very similar to the structure that existed in Super League up to 2008. The Super League clubs would play each other home and away, at Magic Weekend and four or six ‘loop’ games before entering into a six-team play-off. Club 12 could be automatically relegated and replaced by the Championship League Leaders; Club 11 would join the Championship play-offs to determine the last place in Super League.

The RFL Executive is also investigating other mechanics around promotion and relegation on Option 1.

The advantages of this option are that it offers the most recognisable model of promotion and relegation, maintains interaction between the top two divisions and creates the opportunity for a Magic Weekend in the Championship. The disadvantages are the issues around automatic promotion and relegation outlined above and the requirement to impose random ‘loop’ fixtures. 

How would Option 2 (2x12 and qualifying play-offs) work?

The clubs in each division would play each other home and away plus a Magic Weekend fixture (23 games) before splitting into three groups of eight for a qualifying play-off series. The middle eight would involve the bottom four clubs from Super League competing against the top four Championship clubs. The clubs would play each other once (seven matches) before the play-offs conclude in a 1st x 4th and 2nd v 3rd format with the winners contesting the Grand Final. To ease fixture congestion, the top eight Super League clubs would receive a bye into the fifth round of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.

The advantages of this option are that 12 clubs gain two extra home games within their season ticket and 12 gain one extra game; there are no ‘loop’ fixtures; it brings about a reduction in ‘pay-gate’ play-offs as clubs can sell a 30-game season ticket; delivers more matches of equal ability in two symmetrical leagues; and gives aspirational Championship clubs meaningful and sustained exposure to the ‘weakest’ Super League clubs. Disadvantages are the format’s unconventionality, the full fixture list is not known at the start of the season and any prize in the third ‘8’ is not as significant as the other two ‘8s’.

How will the broadcast and commercial income be shared under the three options?

The definitive details of financial distributions will be determined in the weeks ahead once a decision has been reached on competition structures post-2014.

In both options under consideration, the Super League clubs would receive distributions that are broadly similar to what they receive now with a significantly increased level of resource invested into the Championship.

A suggested model of how the distributions might work is outlined below – although final details have yet to be agreed:

Option 1 - the top two Championship clubs would receive £500,000, clubs three and four would receive £200,000 and the rest £175,000 or £150,000, dependent on league position;

Option 2 - The top four clubs would receive £650,000, £600,000, £550,000 and £500,000 with the rest receiving £200,000 down to £150,000, dependent on league position.

In both options, the Championship One clubs would receive £75,000 per season.

Super League clubs would also receive additional payments to help fund Academy structures and there would be parachute payments in place to assist Super League clubs which drop into the Championship.

The actual distributions will be determined in the closing stages of the consultation process in mid to late July.

Have other options been considered?

The RFL Executive has considered a wide range of options, including many that have been proposed by stakeholders, but feel the remaining options presented best meet the over-arching philosophies of the Policy Review.

Why do some of the options seem so complicated and/or radical?

Whilst there is no desire from anyone to put forward proposals which are unduly innovative or complex, it is clear that a ‘simple’ solution does not exist. Humans are, by nature, conservative and change can be uncomfortable but the RFL Executive is confident that just as reservations about concepts like the play-offs and the Grand Final were quickly dispelled, the sport will embrace the opportunities afforded by its proposals.

Would clubs like Catalan Dragons and London Broncos be safeguarded from relegation under the new proposals?

If the sport is to implement a league structure where clubs stand or fall on their on-field performances, then all clubs, including those in strategically significant markets such as London and France, would have to rise or fall on their own merits.

Are there plans to ‘fast track’ a second French club into Super League?

The RFL has been in dialogue with Toulouse Olympique for some time about the possibility of them joining Catalan Dragons in Super League and it is clear that Toulouse are very ambitious in that regard. However the RFL has made it clear that the introduction of a second French team into either Super League or the Championship would be reliant on them delivering a financially robust business plan backed by a broadcast contract that would offset the significant costs associated with cross-Channel travel. At the moment, no such broadcast arrangements are in place.

What will happen to Championship One?

The Policy Review is recommending that a two-up, two-down system be adopted in Championship One, with the champions automatically promoted and a second promotion spot going to a play-off winners.  This competition would feature a league campaign of between 12 and 22 games and could have a regional dimension, should the clubs involved demand it.

What about the community game?

The community game has made a key transition from winter to summer in the last 18 months and the sport is committed to maintaining its efforts to provide as many people as possible with the opportunity to play Rugby League.

For the immediate future, it is not envisaged that there will be open movement between Championship One and the National Conference League.

Who will make the final decision?

The number of clubs in Super League has to be agreed between Super League (Europe) - the Super League clubs - and the RFL. Both organisations have a veto. Should Super League and the RFL Board not concur, then Super League will remain as a 14-team competition.

The RFL Board will also determine which clubs participate in Super League and the mechanism by which clubs move from one competition to another.