IMG today presented to the RFL Council the recommended grading criteria to define how Super League, RFL Championship and League One clubs will be assessed starting from 2025, as part of the Reimagining Rugby League plans.

Based on a combination of on and off-field variables, the proposed grading criteria are designed to collectively increase clubs’ fanbases, diversify revenues, drive investment into clubs and the sport in a sustainable manner, run clubs in a best-in-class way and ensure strong governance is in place.

The recommended grading criteria cover five areas, with each element contributing to a percentage of the overall weighting, including:

  • Fandom (25%): encouraging clubs to attract more fans in stadia, at home and digitally, and to improve fan engagement, contributing to both club and central revenues.
  • Performance (25%): incentivising clubs to perform on the field and drive fan awareness and engagement. Teams will be ranked between 1 and 36 based on where they finish in the leagues for the previous three seasons. Bonus points will be awarded to teams who win league and cup competitions in the previous season.
  • Finances (25%): reflecting the success of fan engagement and business performance and rewarding sustainable investment, as well as diversified revenue streams and sound financial management. 
  • Stadium (15%): based on a number of factors, including facilities and utilisation, which add value to the fan and broadcast or digital viewer experience, and match or exceed competition from other sports and events.
  • Catchment (10%): based on area population and the number of clubs in the area, with a view to maximising growth of the sport in the largest markets to generate new fan bases and incentivise investment.

RL Commercial, the RFL and IMG will conduct a series of grading criteria follow-up consultations with club representatives in March and early April, ahead of a vote which is set to take place on 19 April.

If voted through, illustrative grades for the 2024 season will be released at the end of the 2023 season and clubs will be provided with a dashboard outlining the areas they need to improve to attain a higher grade. Grading will then come into full effect from 2025, with the top tier league comprising of 12 clubs including all ‘Category A’ clubs and the highest-ranking ‘Category B’ clubs. All gradings will be re-assessed annually, meaning it is envisaged that promotion and relegation between the tiers would continue, but no longer wholly determined by on-field performance. 

Frank Slevin, the Chair of RL Commercial, said: “After the overwhelming support provided by clubs to the Reimagining Rugby League recommendations when they were first presented last September, the clubs have now been provided with full details of the grading process which is an important part of those proposals. An immense amount of work has been done by IMG, as part of their long-term strategic partnership with Rugby League, to produce a blueprint which breaks new ground for British sport. 

“It is important the clubs now have time to consider the proposals, and to provide feedback, in a series of meetings that have been arranged between now and the Special General Meeting of clubs next month,” he continued.  

“Our goal with the proposed criteria was to establish an objective, easily measurable and reliable framework that will drive long-term, sustainable growth for individual clubs and the sport as a whole,” added Matt Dwyer, Vice President of Sport Management, IMG Media. “We, RL Commercial and the RFL believe improvement in each of these areas is possible for all clubs over time and is vital to transforming and future-proofing Rugby League. Ultimately, we want to be in position down the line where the top tier league is full of Category A clubs and being expanded.”  

The grading criteria recommendations were determined using a scientific, data-led approach powered by Endeavor Analytics, a leading data services provider which sits alongside IMG in the Endeavor network, combined with IMG’s global expertise.

The criteria will be published on the RFL website today.

Seven League, IMG’s digital team, are continuing to work with RL Commercial on the sport’s digital strategy, running ongoing workshops with clubs, while continuing to develop new ways of working, commercial valuation models and digital practices within the RFL and RL Commercial teams.

Meanwhile, IMG sister company and cultural marketing agency 160over90 expects to complete the wider rebrand of the Men’s and Women’s Super League competitions later this year ahead of the 2024 season launch.