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New TV deal controls the future of UK rugby league

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Roar Rookie
2nd June, 2019
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In the UK, the rugby league administrators and chairmen are trying to find how best to maximise their funding opportunities in the next TV deal.

Get it right and it may revolutionise the sport in the Northern Hemisphere. Get it wrong and it may be the demise of professional rugby league in the UK.

If I were RFL chief Ralph Rimmer or Super League boss Robert Elstone, I would sit down together and determine what is the best structure and mix of teams that brings in the biggest TV dollar.

New clubs in America and Europe bring significant opportunity. This opportunity needs to be seized, which can only be done through offering these clubs licences for the Super League.

This should be done for two reasons. Firstly, to unlock new funding streams and growth abroad. Secondly, the international clubs bring much needed cachet and marketing back home in the UK.

However, English support have pushed against licensing due to the traditional and romantic idea of promotion and relegation. This model ensures that clubs at the top earn their spot and keeps lower clubs at the bottom fighting all season long.

London Broncos defeat Toronto Raptors to make it back into the Super League.

International franchises like the Toronto Wolfpack are the future of rugby league in the Northern Hemisphere. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

If I were Ralph and Robert, I would sell the TV channels this proposition.

The 14 clubs in Super League play 26 rounds of home and away.

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The five exciting international clubs are given a five-year licence for the top league. These clubs must become central to the repositioning of Super League, not a side distraction.

The four UK clubs that have won the Super League grand final should also be offered a five-year licence for the top league. These clubs are powerhouses, who bring tradition and brand recognition across the UK and the rugby league world.

Two from Yorkshire (Leeds and Bradford) and two from Lancashire (St Helens and Wigan) keep healthy rivalries. I still can’t believe only four clubs have won the grand final in the Super League era.

The remaining five places come through a promotion/relegation system from a pool of 15 professional UK clubs. These 15 clubs are provided five-year licences to be in the top two tiers, with central funding being distributed to these clubs proportionally to their table standings.

Before awarding licences to these UK clubs, I would open an expression of interest to new UK clubs or new club owners who wish to invest. These may include the Newcastle Thunder or Marwan Koukash’s Liverpool side.

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The top five UK clubs of each year would play in the Super League and remaining ten play in the lower Super League Two.

At the end of each season, the bottom club of these five play in the million pound game against the top club of SL2 to remain in Super League.

SL2 would have ten UK professional/semi-professional clubs, playing each other three times in 27 rounds. The league leader plays off in the million pound game for the chance of promotion to Super League.

UK clubs outside of this Super League structure would play in a revamped amateur Championship league funded by the RFL.

Based on the current table table standings, my suggested two leagues would be a very strong and exciting comp.

Super League
1. St Helens (UK licence)
2. Wigan (UK licence)
3. Leeds (UK licence)
4. Bradford (UK licence)
5. Catalans (international licence)
6. Tolouse (international licence)
7. Toronto (international licence)
8. Ottawa (international licence)
9. New York (international licence)
10. Warrington (promotion/relegation)
11. Hull FC (promotion/relegation)
12. Castleford (promotion/relegation)
13. Wakefield (promotion/relegation)
14. Salford (promotion/relegation)

Super League Two
1. Huddersfield (promotion/relegation)
2. Hull KR (promotion/relegation)
3. London (promotion/relegation)
4. York (promotion/relegation)
5. Featherstone (promotion/relegation)
6. Leigh (promotion/relegation)
7. Sheffield (promotion/relegation)
8. Halifax (promotion/relegation)
9. Widnes (promotion/relegation)
10. Newcastle (promotion/relegation)