The Rugby Football League’s licencing system has come under fire recently after the financial collapse of the Bradford Bulls showed it up for what it really was.
The grading of clubs in such black and white terms was completely ridiculous. Putting clubs into different categories was always going to lead to problems simply because so many clubs were struggling to survive when it happened. If the RFL had been fair dinkum about the process there would have been three different categories.
1. Teams that are not likely to go bust any time soon.
2. Teams that are struggling to survive.
3. Teams that will go bust if forced to commit financially in Super League.
The first category would have had Wigan, Leeds, St Helens, Warrington and Hull FC. The second category would have included most of the rest of the clubs in Super League. The last category would have included many of the teams that are now whinging that the licencing system is unfair and that they should be promoted into Super League in favour of the Bradford Bulls.
In a competition that is completely unsustainable, one in which clubs are spending more money then they can generate, any system that is in place will not work. Until the salary cap is lowered to a sustainable level it doesn’t matter what format the competition is played under, it will continue to push clubs to the very limit and see them go into administration.
The real idea behind licencing was that Super League could look to build towards a bigger and brighter future. The Rugby Football League needed a system in which it could keep the clubs it wanted in Super League and leave the ones it didn’t feel could compete in The Championship. In short, it was a way to call off the dogs. If they could come up with some black and white system that would allow them in a round about way to tell certain Championship Clubs to give up their unsustainable dreams of playing in Super League, great, lets go with it!
The problem they ran into is that clubs were falling over all over the place. The Wakefield Wildcats ominously went bust mid season and then the collapse of the Wrexham Crusaders forced the RFL to promote Widnes into Super League when that clearly was not what they had intended to do. Less than 12 months later the Bradford Bulls went into administration, Hull KR’s owners all but said they can not commit to sustaining a Super League club over the long term and the Salford Reds are quietly on a slow march towards oblivion.
Seeing all of this happening above them, teams like Halifax and Featherstone are calling for Promotion and Relegation to be reinstated to allow them to play in Super League at the expense clubs already in Super League. These calls are all about the self interests of these clubs. They are short sighted and stupid. They are typical of the way some English clubs are being run right now where by clubs have ambitions far beyond the reality that they find themselves in.
For some strange reason no one is looking at the effect that Promotion and Relegation would have had on Super League this season.
The Widnes Vikings were judged to be the best team to get promotion into Super League in mid 2011. They were given a 6 month lead in which was supposed to allow them a better chance to build a decent squad. This is an advantage no promoted club would normally ever have. Despite all of them, Widnes joined Super League and were completely out of their depth. They went from being one of the strongest clubs in The Championship to being cannon fodder in Super League.
If we had Promotion and Relegation in place, Widnes would have been Promoted in 2011 and Relegated in 2012.
Now Widnes fans rightfull point out that their inclusion in Super League can not be rated on their 2012 performance. They need time to build a squad worthy of a place Super League. Most people suggest this will take them between 3-5 years to do.
After financially commiting so much money to try and compete in Super League, do you realise how financially devastating it would be to then force the Vikings to play in The Championship next season?
It is not just about the playing squad….
Being part of Super League is what their players want, it is what their coaching staff wants, it is what their sponsors want and it is what their fans want. It is the nature of sport that when you get relegated, you lose people in every single one of those areas. You’re playing strength dissapears, you lose back room staff, fans stay away and sponsors ups and leave because they are no longer getting the exposure they want in the second division of the game.
Any strength the Vikings have right now would be completely wiped away and they would have to try and start rebuilding all over again.
Meanwhile, the promoted side now has just 3 months to try and find players good enough to compete in Super League. Something that is completely impossible to do. They have to find a sponsor, which is hard enough for top clubs, let alone newly promoted clubs who are likely to get few television games and could be out the door themselves in 12 months time. They also have to hope their coaching staff isn’t in over their heads against the long time professionals in Super League.
Good luck to any side facing that ridiculous scenario. How long do you think that side will last in Super League when an established team like the Bradford Bulls can’t even get by!
Even in the English Premier League soccer, with hundreds of millions of dollars on offer, clubs come up, cant compete, and go straight back down again. Not only that, they go bust too! All of that money on offer and Premier League clubs go bust! What does that tell you about the supposed Golden Bullet that is Promotion and Relegation?
Looking towards Australia, we have never had Promotion and Relegation. The ARL just signed a broadcasting deal that will see the NRL making $270 million dollars every single year for the next five years. Hard to say we are doing something wrong.
This season the Parramatta Eels came last in the NRL. Last year it was the Gold Coast Titans. The year before that it was the Melbourne Storm after they had all of their points stripped for salary cap breaches.
Can you imagine how ridiculous it would have been for the NRL to relegate any of these teams from the competition so that they could promote reserve grade clubs? I know that even the most ardent supporters of Promotion and Relegation is looking at the last few sentances and they know I am making a hell of a lot of sense.
Parramatta finished last this season. They have signed Ricky Stuart for the 2013 season. They have kept all of their star players such as Chris Sandow, Jarryd Hayne, Willing Tonga and the like and are even persuing other players as we speak. None of this would have been possible if we had Promotion and Relegation in place.
In modern day sport where you have professional players and coaches, Promotion and Relegation does not work. To build a successful club, you have to be allowed to build on a stable foundation that does not include a trap door out of the competition. Professional players and coaches aim for the top. It is nice and romantic to think that the local star just wants to play for his local club, but the reality is that he can not afford to leave money on the table playing for a club in lower divisions and playing against semi professionals.
All Promotion and Relegation does is undermine the most vunrable clubs in the sport. When you have an extremely popular sport, you can give the apearance that this doesn’t have too much of an effect, but Rugby League in Great Britain simply does not have that luxury.
The Bradford Bulls are a famous club based in a big city that less than a decade ago was completely dominating Super League. Even in their current position, they are more capable of surviving in Super League than most other Super League clubs and every single other Championship club. That might not sit well with fans of those other clubs, but that is the reality of modern day sport.
The sooner Championship Clubs stop pushing for the unobtainable goal of being a Super League powerhouse, the brighter their future will be. After all, these clubs that are the big guns of The Championship are not even on the radar when it comes to the level needed to be a Super League club.
Just ask the Widnes Vikings…
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com