Financial Reforms Needed If British Rugby League Is To Survive

News that the Wakefield Wildcats need £500,000 by the end of January to ensure the survival of the club was confronting, and yet not a shock to Rugby League community.

Over the last few years we have seen clubs at every level of the game in such financial peril that many have not survived. Where once the talk of going into administration was devastating, now it is such a regular occurrence for Rugby League clubs in the UK that few seem to care any more.

When a team is so badly managed that it is at the point of no return, the games administrators seem to be happy to allow a club to be dissolved, on paper, and a new club with the same name, logo, administration, coaching staff and player to be formed.

Salford, Blackpool, Widnes, Castleford, London, Wrexham….the list goes on and on of clubs that have found themselves in trouble in recent years.

The financial structure of the game in the UK is crumbling at its foundations, and throughout this entire process, the Rugby Football League stands back and does nothing.

A quick look at Super League shows how absurd the financial structure of the game has become.

With the salary cap in place, clubs are supposed to be protected from spending themselves to death, and at the same time, talent is supposed to be distributed evenly among clubs.

In reality though, this financial control mechanism is non existent.

The financially strong clubs in Super League pick and chose talent from other clubs within the game at will. There is never any thought of the salary cap, even squad sizes. Top Super League clubs are now stockpiling talent while other Super League clubs are starved of talent.

Over the entire history of Super League only Leeds, Bradford, St Helens and Wigan have won the Super League title. Does that sound like and even competition to you?

With the majority of Super League clubs struggling for talent, struggling on the field, struggling to attract fans through the gates at stadiums that are terribly out dated, it is a minor miracle that 14 teams even exist in Super League right now.

Promotion and Relegation was replaced by a three year revolving license policy, a good move. It was supposed to help bring financial stability to the lower grade levels of the game, and at the same time allow Super League clubs to grow a stable financial base.

This went out the window when the Widnes Vikings won the first division competition, said they were ready for Super League, missed out, and then within days announced they were in administration.

The favorite for the next team to enter Super League is…of course…the Widnes Vikings.

What we have in effect is a system where financial instability is rewarded by the Rugby Football League. Where you are encouraged to spend yourself to death because, hey, we’ll just reward the new company you form from the financial ashes of your mistakes in a few years time anyway!

This madness has got to stop. The game at every level needs to reset it values, it needs to reset it goals and we needs to understand the true financial foundations the game of Rugby League in the UK stands on.

The rich backers of Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Warrington have provided everyone else with the sight of a false economy. These teams are not the norm, they are not the ideal, they are not the goal.

If this means that we need to rethink how we look at the Super League salary cap, that we have a salary cap for the haves and have nots, then that is just what we have to do. In effect this will bring us a two tiered Super League competition, the alternative though is to have a Super League competition consisting of about six clubs, with only a few of them teams even having a shot at Super League glory!

The way talent is distributed among clubs also needs to be looked at. The RFL will need to think outside the box.

What I can’t get my head around is that, a player like Kyle Eastmond wants more money from St Helens or he will head to Rugby Union. Thats fine by me, our game was established so that players got compensated for their time on the field.

What I don’t understand is, why doesn’t a player in the position of Kyle Eastmond get offers from clubs such as the London Harlequins. He could be their marque player, he would be a player they would do their marketing around, who they would build their team around…you would think they have the room under the salary cap to spend, and yet, moves like this are NEVER on the cards.

The traffic is all one way in England. Top players never leave top clubs to get more money lower down the table. They always seem to get the most money at the top clubs, salary cap be damned.

If lower table clubs are so financially constrained that they just don’t have the money to spend on top players, despite having the cap space, then there could be no better reason to have a rethink on how and why we have a salary cap in place.

I’ve said for years now, the game in the UK needs to shed its self interests in the interests of survival. The RFL needs a whole game outlook on the decisions it makes, the rules it puts in place and the financial controls it has over clubs and competitions.

Stopping lower grade clubs from spending money on imports will help the bottom line and provide a bigger catchment for British players.

Bringing in a two tiered salary cap in Super League along with a much more involved loan system would allow top clubs to farm out talent to lower grade club, while picking up part of the tab, it will allow lower grade clubs to compete on a financial ground with clubs of equal standing, and it will also allow more good British talent to get game time in the top grade rather than having them sit on the sidelines just in case a few injuries strike.

The millions of pounds spend on imports needs to be slashed. The talent heading to Super League is not nearly as talented as it once was, the returns are not there like they once were and at the end of the day, the vast majority of imports are proving unreliable anyway.

The RFL needs to step in and make decisions for clubs on things like stadium upgrades and usage. The RFL should have dictated to Castelford and Wakefield that they would be playing in a shared stadium whether they liked it or not….because make no mistake, the loss of Wakefield from Super League will hurt no one more than Castleford.

Its the greater game view, where tough decisions are made for the good of the greater game, that the RFL needs to stand up and make.

Rugby League in Great Britain is just not sustainable in its current form. The only people that can change that are those that work at the Rugby Football League.

Its time for the RFL to stand up and make some reforms to the financial basket case we have in place today.

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