Sports Finance expert Rob Wilson explained the situation as “There are too many teams generating insufficient turnover and generating too much cumulative debt”.
Incredibly, the Rugby Football League’s director of standards and licensing Blake Solly explained away the massive debt with the type of bullshit marketing line we are used to hearing from the RFL, saying “Rugby League’s health compares favourably to every other major sport”.
So Rugby League is going broke, but don’t worry about it because organisations go broke all the time. Everything is going great! Nothing to see here….
This is an issue I have been talking about for years. Put simply, Super League clubs are spending more money than they make.
Over the last decade there have been countless clubs at all levels of the game that have gone broke. Most recently the highest profile casualities of the financial crunch in Super League have been the Wrexham Crusaders, the Wakefield Wildcats, the Bradford Bulls and the Salford City Reds. Keep in mind, there are only 14 teams in Super League and I haven’t even mentioned the likes of Hull KR, the Castleford Tigers or even Hull FC who have been posting losses for years.
So considering that the game in Great Britain is going through such a financial crisis, why are we not seeing any changes?
When every I suggest that the Super League salary cap should be cut back to £1 million per year, I get two responces. First I get told that Super League would lose all of its players to Rugby Union and to the NRL. The second responce I normally get is that top sides should not be penalised because “some” teams aree poorly run. When I hear that, I tell the fans of these clubs that they will be playing in a 4 team competition if nothing changes.
Like it or not, Rugby League in Great Britain is not generating enough money to justify spending how much it currently does on players. When you look at the terrible quality of the Super League competition these days, I think it is fair to suggest that most of the competition are paying professional salaries to amateur players anyway.
If Super League cut the salary cap back to £1 million per year for the 2013 season, the vast majority of clubs would finish the year in the black.
Yes, some players would leave the competition, but only a handful. Rugby Union in England would pick most of these players up, but if spending is not cut back Rugby Union will walk in and pick up these players eventually anyway. I’ve suggested many times that if I was running the RFU I would simply make huge offers to buy the Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, St Helens, Hull Fc and Warrington Wolves and for I reckon less than £50 million pounds Rugby League would be completely killed off as a professional sport in Great Britain.
When you consider that clubs have ammased a debt of £68.5 million, it makes you wonder what is left for the rest of the game. How does the Rugby Football League itself stay in business.
The 2013 World Cup has been seen as the financial saviour of the game in Great Britain for a number of years now. The Rugby Football League have sold the competition to the governement and potential sponsors as a grand event that will cure all the games ills. Just stick around for the World Cup, once that arrives Rugby League in Great Britain will be flying.
My great fear is that the opposite will happen. That much like the 2000 World Cup, the Rugby Football League will be plunged into a financial crisis that it can not get itself out of. After the 2000 World Cup the Rugby Football League went cap in hand to the ARL and NZRL and basically begged them to play every international event for the first half of the decade back in Great Britain. Luckily, the ARL and NZRL accomodated them.
Will the same thing happen this time around? I don’t think so. I think with the way England performs on the field and the way the Rugby Football League have managed to trash the brand, you can’t even sell England playing in England any more.
What I suggest is more likely to happen is that the Australian Rugby League Commission will take a controling interest in the game in Great Britain. They will offer financial insentives and parachute in a group of Australian administrators to clean up the financial mess and fix some of the problems the Rugby Football League has created for itself. In return, Australian administrators will effectively run Rugby League in Great Britain.
What will they do?
The first thing they will do is reduce the salary cap. Then they will police it. I’d also suggest that with a financial stake in Britain Rugby League would would start to see Super League and its clubs used to generate income and to help build a bigger player base for the NRL.
Super League clubs might find they get investment from NRL clubs to act as feeder teams and to help develop players for NRL clubs. They might find young Australian coaches coming into Super League to get experience coaching at a higher level. If the ARLC needs to invest in the game in Great Britain, they will look for a return on their investment in some way. That might scare a lot of Super League fans, but the fact is that it would give Super League clubs a level of financial security they just don’t have right now.
It is disgraceful that British Rugby League has been allowed to fall into this financial mess. If a dude from Western Sydney has seen this coming for a decade, the people at Red Hall have surely known what was going on….and they did nothing about it!
We will need to see the game in Great Britain just about die before any changes are made. When it gets to that point, it is no certainty that it will be able to be saved.
Meanwhile, with debts mounting and clubs to this very day struggling to survive, the Rugby Football League keeps bailing water off the Titanic and telling the passengers that everything will be alright.
Sometimes it is depressing to find out you’ve been right all along….
BBC Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and BBC Inside Out North West, presented by George Riley, will be shown on Monday, 28 January on BBC One at 19:30 GMT.
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