IMG Announces Franchising Plans As Part Of New Rugby League Era

The sports management company has proposed that the top-flight returns to a franchising setup
14:38, 28 Sep 2022

The sports and events management company IMG has announced proposals to reinvigorate rugby league with the reintroduction of a franchising system from the 2024 season.

Under the new plans, clubs would be awarded either Category A or Category B status, with automatic Betfred Super League relegation scrapped and only Cat A teams guaranteed a place in the top tier.

The Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project also includes a potential rebrand of the sport, which could see the Super League name change in time. This would be the biggest shake-up in rugby league since the beginning of the Super League era and the switch to summer rugby 27 years ago.

IMG has put forward suggestions as a key part of their first phase of the sport agency’s 12-year partnership with rugby league, which began in the spring of 2022.

It has recommended:

  • 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. 

It has said that 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.  

Clubs have been invited to a follow-up meeting on October 13, at which point 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.

Simon Johnson, the Chair of the Rugby Football League, said: “This is a significant day in terms of setting out a new path for the sport. We have prioritised transparency, in sharing these recommendations first with clubs and then with fans through the media.

“It is very much a direction of travel in these top-line recommendations, with significant layers of detail still to be worked through. But these proposals contain both a recognition of the need to make significant changes to address a range of challenges facing the sport at all levels, and recommendations for those changes which have the potential to transform the approach, mood and reality of Rugby League in the UK and beyond.”

Matt Dwyer, Vice President, Sports Management of IMG, added: “Having now had the opportunity to dive deeper into the sport, including through consultations with all key stakeholders of the game, our excitement for this 12-year strategic partnership and what can be achieved has only increased.

“We have a unique opportunity to alter the growth trajectory of the sport and we believe the recommendations we have presented today will provide the foundation for that growth and attract new investment into the game. Our approach is focused on the product and leveraging the full expertise of IMG and the broader Endeavor network to create a high-quality entertainment offering for the fans.”

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