IMG has 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.

This work will sit alongside other workstreams being led by IMG and other parts of the Endeavor network to maximise the commercial potential of the sport and build deeper relationships with fans and new audiences.

These include content production and innovation, domestic and international distribution of media rights, digital transformation powered by IMG’s digital sports arm Seven League, brand strategy delivered by Endeavor’s cultural marketing agency 160over90, streaming through Endeavor’s OTT platform Endeavor Streaming and data collection, betting product development and streaming rights via its sports data and betting technology business IMG Arena.

The 12-year strategic partnership with IMG followed the decision of the RFL and SLE to realign the governance framework of the sport and the long-term deal reached on how monies should be distributed across the sport.

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.”

Ken Davy, the Chair of Super League (Europe), said: “Founded solidly on the realignment of Super League and the RFL this has been an all-encompassing process conducted by IMG, with all of the key stakeholders within the sport playing important roles in it.

“We would like to thank the clubs, broadcasters, commercial partners and supporters that have contributed to IMG’s recommendations, which set out a new future for Rugby League and can take it in a bold and positive direction.

“At Super League we look forward to the next stage of this comprehensive process, working towards providing further updates that will map out the sport’s long-term future.”

Matt Dwyer, Vice President, Sports Management, 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.”

By Joshua Chapman