To All Rugby League Clubs.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO RUGBY LEAGUE
I write in regard to the proposed changes to the Rugby League and in advance of the crucial, forthcoming vote in which all Rugby League Clubs and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to have their final say on the new proposals.
As both a rugby league fan and the Member of Parliament representing Keighley, home of the mighty Keighley Cougars, I believe it is only right for me to express my deep concerns in relation to the proposed new changes being brought forward by the global entertainment management firm, IMG.
As you will be aware, under the new proposals, IMG’s ‘reimaged’ future of the Rugby League is centred around each club being allotted a grade of A, B or C, which is based on a range of set criteria, with their proposed changes coming into force for the start of the 2025 season.
I understand that those clubs who are graded ‘A’ will be immune from relegation as will the remaining top-flight places awarded to the highest scoring grade ‘B’ teams.
The new proposals, which will require a majority of the Rugby League clubs and other stakeholders to vote in favour of, stipulate that a club will not simply move up or down the ranks based purely on ‘pitch‘ performance but a range of criteria. I understand the voting rights are weighted to favour Super League clubs, who have two votes each, compared to the one vote that those below the Super League will have. All of this, in my view seems unfair, and a mechanism which I do not believe will have the support of the wider fan base.
Despite competition being a key feature of sport, it is proposed that actual performance on the pitch will only have a 25% weighting in the overall grading of Rugby League clubs.
As you will be aware, IMG are proposing to introduce additional weighting, which includes the categories of “fandom” (25%), which covers attendance and digital engagement of clubs, “finances” (25%), which covers a club’s financial sustainability, “stadium”, which prioritises facilities and fan experience (15P•) and “catchment” (10%), based on area population and the number of clubs in the surrounding area.
This means that clubs may receive immunity from relegation based on factors outside of their actual performance on the pitch. This seems completely ludicrous and takes away from the thrill of the sport in which all fans enjoy.
IMGs proposals for the grading of Rugby League clubs and the way in which they move up and down through the ranks seems nothing more than ‘sport by spreadsheet’.
For example, the ’stadium’ category will mean those clubs that have better facilities will be at an advantage. Likewise, the ‘catchment’ category will mean that those clubs with a smaller catchment either due to the relative population being smaller or a neighbouring Rugby League club being closer, will be at a disadvantage. Even the ‘finance’ category seems unfair as a club may actively be seeking investment opportunities but find it harder to do so given that only 25% of the proposed changes consider pitch performance.
All these non-performance related criteria will have a negative impact on driving either public or private investment into a club. Why would one want to invest in a club whose chance of promotion is significantly reduced due to non-performance metrics?
IMG’s proposals will mean that if your club finished at the top of the second tier, but another club gained more points than your club due to the financial, stadium, or fandom criteria, your team would stay down andthat team would go up.
In other words, IMG’s proposals are anything but a ‘reimagining’ of the sport but in my view an active damaging of the sport. These changes will penalise clubs like the Keighley Cougars who have grafted hard to win, and instead give priority to the big-budget clubs at the top.
It seems completely unfair that a club’s opportunities for promotion are significantly weakened through factors outside of the club‘s own control due to 75% of the club’s promotion opportunity relating to non-pitch performance grading.
It is further madness that IMG have announced that top clubs are going to be totally exempt from being relegated — provided they can demonstrate their capital on and off the pitch. This clearly puts an end to the era of hard-fought promotion battles that excite and thrill fans throughout the season, creating a new elitist venture where top clubs can effectively ‘pay-in’ to win with guaranteed immunity from relegation.
As you may be aware, the Keighley Cougars have led the charge against these ridiculous proposals as they, like I, believe that sport should simply be about pitch performance and the thrill of the game. My deep concern is that many fans will not know or be aware of the proposals being put forward, and many will only come to realise the changes once it is too late.
I do believe that there is a real risk of the fan base of Rugby League becoming completely disenfranchised from the sport altogether once they realise that the measurables of their club being promoted or demoted is only as a result of 25% pitch performance and the vast majority, 75% is nothing to do with how well their team did in the match.
I have met to discuss IMGs proposals with the owners of Keighley Cougars, Kaue Garcia and Ryan O‘NeiII. I am deeply concerned IMG seem determined to plough on regardless of the completely valid concerns being raised by the Keighley Cougars.
I have recently met with the Minister for Sport, the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP, who listened to our concerns, and I am shortly due to have further meetings with his officials.
This is all about fairness and a strong will to secure the longevity of a sport we all love.
My message to the IMG is simple: these new rules are not fair, and they are not sport. The proposals are highly reminiscent of those put forward in April last year to create a new European Super League in football, plans which quite rightly caused an uproar among fans across the country. Sport needs to be singularly about pitch performance and the IMG’s proposals fly in the face of the basic principles of competition, fairness, and sport.
It is for this reason I am offering the Keighley Cougars and their fan base my unequivocal support in their endeavours to make the case to all Rugby League clubs in advance of the forthcoming vote that we must oppose these unfair rule changes.
I would be most grateful if you could take on board my concerns above before casting your vote, and if at all possible, should you share the concerns of the Keighley Cougars and I, I would be very grateful if you could voice these to the IMG before a vote is scheduled to take place.
For the love of the sport, I send this letter with my best wishes, Your sincerely