Thursday, February 16, 2023

Super League and Rugby Football League (RFL) set to realign in major change for rugby league governance

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RFL and Super League recommend a realignment – as mooted for months – with the formation of a new joint venture company; clubs will discuss the new structure regarding the sport’s governance and commercial interests in England at a Special General Meeting on March 22

Last Updated: 02/03/22 12:40pm

Super League and the RFL have edged closer to reunifying, after confirming recommendations for a realignment

The Rugby Football League (RFL) and Super League have confirmed they will recommend clubs support a major change in the sport’s governance at a Special General Meeting later this month.

As exclusively revealed to Sky Sports, the realignment involves the formation of a new joint venture company, to work closely with but separately from the governing body function of the RFL and Super League (SLE) – the latter will also remain responsible for the community game and for elite performance through England teams, continuing to work closely with Sport England.

All staff will be based in the Sport City complex at Manchester’s Etihad Campus, which is due to become the sport’s new headquarters later this year.

“Like all sports, Rugby League has faced unprecedented challenges over the last two years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ken Davy and Simon Johnson, the respective chairs of Super League and the RFL, explained in a joint statement.

“This has concentrated our minds on the opportunities ahead for rugby league and led to detailed negotiations over recent months with the objective of ensuring the sport re-emerges to a brighter and more sustainable future.

Ken Davy, interim chairman of Super League, released a joint statement with the RFL's Simon Johnson on Wednesday

Ken Davy, interim chairman of Super League, released a joint statement with the RFL’s Simon Johnson on Wednesday

“We are convinced that this recommendation, with the introduction of a new company and a clear distinction from the governance responsibilities of the RFL, is the right model for our sport.

“The new company will allow the value of Rugby League to be maximised by aggregating all commercial, events and media rights, for negotiations with potential commercial partners – and in turn, maximising distributable profits and therefore returns to clubs and the wider game.

“Each of the RFL, Super League and the new company will therefore be able to concentrate on what they do best for the overall good of rugby league at every level.

“With an embedded split of the profits between the leagues and the RFL, it also provides long-term financial clarity for member clubs.

“It enshrines a financial model which means all members have a shared destiny with all participating in the growth of revenues in the sport irrespective of which asset delivers that growth.”

The recommended structure of the new company would involve the appointment of a five-strong board, with two directors appointed by the RFL, two by SLE, and a jointly appointed chair – all five to be independent from club ties.

In short what does realignment mean?

The RFL and Super League will set-up a joint venture company that will pursue all the commercial interests for the sport including England, Super League, Challenge Cup, Women’s and Wheelchair Super League, Championship and League 1.

The RFL will continue to be the sole governing body of the sport responsible for the regulation and operation of the sport at all levels; participation and the community game and running all England team programmes.

The model is seen as best practice in dividing commercial and regulatory functions.

It enables the value of the sport to be maximised by aggregating all commercial, events and media rights enabling assets across the sport to be offered to potential commercial partners.

The financial provisions provide long-term financial clarity for all clubs and importantly mean that all clubs have a shared destiny meaning that we will move forward as one focused sport.

What are the next steps?

A Council Meeting which will take place in just over 14 days’ time.

While in relation to RFL rights, the RFL Board alone could determine this matter, the board believes that it is appropriate to seek a direct mandate from the members given the significance of this matter to the whole of the game and a desire for the sport to move forward confidently and collectively.

What are the timelines should the Council approve the plan?

All parties will work together during 2022 to ensure that the new structure is embedded by the end of the year. The two executives already work closely on a range of matters and this will continue to grow.

Next steps are to appoint a board for the joint venture company – this will be done collectively by the RFL and SLE to ensure a blend of skills to oversee the work of the new entity. It will be made up of two Super League appointed representatives, two from the RFL and an independent Chair. All appointments will be independent of any club connection.

The Board would then look to appoint an MD for the company.

What does this mean for the current Super League board?

While the functions of the existing SLE Executive will transfer to the new entity and therefore SLE will not have any staff, SLE has existed as a separate company to the RFL since the start of Super League and will continue to do so primarily as a vehicle to distribute monies to Super League clubs [and as a representative forum for Super League clubs].

Alongside realignment, a review of the Board of Super League is ongoing to support the new governance structure.

What does this mean for Championship and League 1 clubs?

The new structure enshrines a financial model which means all members celebrate and participate in the growth of revenues in the sport irrespective of which asset delivers that growth.

This is delivered by all profits of RL Commercial (not just broadcast) being divided on the basis of pre-agreed percentages to each of: SLE to distribute to the SL clubs; the RFL in relation to its function as governing body; and to the Championship and League 1 members (via the RFL).

This is a long-term deal and therefore means clarity and certainty for all clubs.

Speaking to the clubs, there is genuine excitement at the whole sport being united and having a shared destiny and creating a stage to promote our game.

Does this mean league structures will change?

No this has no impact on the league structures during the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

What about private equity/investment?

As previously outlined, a working group with members of SLE and RFL has been considering a strategic plan for the sport, and this has involved positive discussions regarding potential external investment and expertise.

Those discussions suggest that dividing the commercial and regulatory functions would assist that progress.

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