Who Will Stop Rugby League In Great Britain From Dying?

The Administrator in charge of the Bradford Bulls has made members of the clubs front office and coaching staff redundant today, including head coach Michael Potter. Assistant coach Francis Cummins is the only member of the coaching staff left to prepare the squad for their next Super League game.

What a mess. It is a disgrace that things have got to this point.

Obviously the Bulls have been very poorly managed over many years. We have all watched their decline from being the best club in the UK to becoming an also-ran, and now, a club on the verge of complete collapse.

Their demise however comes hot on the heels of a similar demise at the Wakefield Wildcats at the beginning of last years and then the decision by the Wrexham Crusader at the end of 2011 to withdraw from Super League, which basically saw the club wound up.

That means three of the 14 clubs in Super League that have fallen over in the past 18 months.

So, what are the Rugby Football League doing about what is an obvious crisis within the game? What have they done to at the very least ensure that they can fulfill their commitment to sponsors and broadcasters to present a 14 team competition?

The Rugby Football League has sat back and let this situation unfold and it has taken no responsibility what so ever.

Worse still, someone at the Rugby Football League gave the green light for the governing body to buy Odsal Stadium from the Bulls, therefore removing the one bankable asset the Bulls still had at that time. They bought a stadium that had one tenant. A tenant that was in a dire financial position.

Who ever made that decision should be fired immediately.

Many people suggest that it is not up to the RFL to step in during situations like this. They feel as though they should stand back and let clubs die. This is a simplistic, stupid point of view that doesn’t take into account the wider effects on the game when a top level club is allowed to fail.

How can you possibly sell yourself to a sponsor when the competition has lost 3 clubs within the last 18 months? I’m not just talking about Super League itself, I’m talking about individual clubs as well. If 3 of the 14 clubs in Super League can so easily fall over, why should a sponsor even consider investing its marketing budget into the likes of Wigan, Hull FC, St Helens or Warrington?

No doubt fans of those clubs are saying they are in different position. That it won’t happen to them. I’m sure Bradford Bulls felt the same way not too long ago as well. The fact is, the difference between the Bradford Bulls and every other clubs in Super League right now is how deep the pockets of their private backers are.

If Warrington Wolves owner Simon Moran decided tomorrow that he was going to move on and do something else, the Wolves wouldn’t see out the season. That is where these Super League clubs are at. Their business models are not sustainable. There are no exceptions.

So if Super League isn’t a financially sustainable competition, and 3 of the 14 clubs have recently fallen over, when does the administrator of Super League (The RFL) decide to make changes, reign back spending and put in place measures that will make the competition sustainable?

The answer of course is that they should have done it a long time ago. They should never have allowed things to get this bad. There have been plenty of warning signs and yet nothing was done. They sat back and tried to hide behind smoke and mirrors. They put out press releases making bold claims about the health of the game when they knew there were major problems.

Who is responsible for all of this?

No one at the Rugby Football League is EVER held accountable for ANYTHING.

The only way this Bradford Bulls situation can be recovered is if the club finds something that is willing to bankroll a new company. The current club would be allowed to die. Then the new company would step in, use the same name, same colours, hire the same coaches and players and carry on playing games. The same thing happened last year at the Wakefield Wildcats.

The difference here is, the Wildcats were a club running on a shoestring budget to begin with. To effectively taking over Bradford, a new owner would need to make a much larger financial commitment. Why would anyone do that in a competition that is financially unsustainable? All they would be doing is pouring money into a club that is going to fall over again anyway!

Now, its not even as though the Bulls have the stadium as an asset that an owner may be interested in!

In terms of the money the game of Rugby League in Great Britain should be turning over, the money the Bulls own isn’t a great deal. It is not even close to the $25 million black hole the Gold Coast Titans dug for themselves recently. In that instance, the NRL eventually stepped in, sold some of the clubs assets, isolated the club from bad investments that had been made and in a matter of a few months had secured the clubs future.

The Rugby Football League has done nothing like that.

So where does Super League go from here?

I think club Chairmen need to meet independently of the RFL. They need to lay all their cards on the table about their businesses and be honest about where they stand. They then need to come to an agreement to reign in spending. Whether they get there through a lower salary cap, restrictions on spending on junior recruitment, lowering costs in terms of coaching….however they do it, it needs to be done.

They then need to go to the RFL with their proposed changes they want made to the games business model and demand they are implemented. The RFL will not show any leadership on this matter. It is up to the clubs to act collectively to save themselves.

The last resort would be get in touch with the Australian Rugby League who are about to come into a lot of money through the next broadcasting deal. The ARL would be extremely hesitant to hand over money to the British game, simply because Australia has demands of its own that the money needs to be spent on.

However, if Super League clubs could agree to financial reforms that made them sustainable over the long term, and they could show the ARL that they have a sound business model, they may be able to convince the ARL to invest in Super League in some capacity.

That may mean Super League gains funding from the ARL to become a development league in some capacity for the NRL. They may be able to channel some sort of funding through a RLIF grant the ARL would simply pay to Super League over the short term just to get the competition back on its feet. It may just come down to more pre season games between Super League clubs and NRL clubs with any profits made going into a central fund that can be used to help out struggling Super League clubs.

The Australian Rugby League will soon become the only Rugby League administration in the world that will have the funds available to bring an issue such as the one the Bulls face under control. The RFL will not approach them, but I’m wondering if Super League clubs owners will. After all, their own clubs lose value every time another clubs in Super League falls over.

The demise of the Bradford Bulls is tragic. It should never have been allowed to get to this point. I just hope it becomes the catalyst for real change. If things don’t change soon you can be assured that Super Leagues final days are fast approaching.

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