More resources will go into promoting rugby league's new-look lower tiers, say the RFL

Ralph Rimmer

Ralph Rimmer

First published in Sport
Last updated

RALPH RIMMER insists resources to market rugby league and its new structure will bolster the second and third divisions and not just focus on Super League.

Rimmer, the Rugby Football League's chief operating officer, was speaking at a media briefing in Brighouse designed to give further details of the new format for the professional game - although one thing it did not confirm was whether the bonus point rule as used in the Championships would be introduced to Super League.

It is hoped the new system, bringing back "jeopardy" in relegation from the top tier, will see attendances rise again, not least in the two divisions below, where clubs now have a pathway to the top. And, said Rimmer, new resources would also be used to sell the game better at all levels.

"The marketing budget is growing (for each division)," he said. "This is not just about Super League. In order to make it happen there are plans that are built around each of these tiers."

York's match against Oldham on Sunday was Championship One's first four-figure gate this year yet was still only half of the Knights' average attendance in the same tier nine years ago when there was promotion and relegation between all divisions. It was also the third best attendance last weekend outside Super League, showing the decline is hardly confined to Huntington Stadium.

It was boosted by an away following from the Roughyeds - a rarity in Championship One, as expansion clubs, despite improving on the field, struggle to attract support home or away, with their attendances often below 300.

"That's their weakness, I accept that," said Rimmer, who has previously hailed expansion clubs for helping to spread the game.

"But we have a strategy for each level of the competition and each has its own strategic priorities as regards visibility and profile and the generation of crowds."

As widely reported, as of next year, Super League and the Championship will both reduce from 14 to 12 clubs - the relegation from the top tier of London Broncos and former champions Bradford Bulls is already confirmed - while Championship One will rise from nine to 14 teams, including the latest expansion club, Coventry Bears. It will also be rebranded as League 1.

Super League and the Championship will play a full regular season of 22 home and away fixtures plus an extra Magic Weekend match - which in the Championship will be labelled the Summer Bash - and then be split into three tiers of "Super Eights".

The top eight go for the Super League title, the middle eight (the bottom four of Super League and top four of the Championship) vie for the four remaining places in Super League, and the bottom eight play for a Championship Shield and to avoid the two relegation spots to League 1.

The middle eight offers the chance of promotion from Championship to Super League which has not been possible during the licensing system, and also comprises a '"Million Pound" game whereby the teams that finish fourth and fifth in this mini-league play-off for the last spot in the elite tier.

Super League and the top-eight mini-league will continue to be sponsored by First Utility, and the Championship and League 1 by Kingstone Press. The middle eight, including the "Million Pound" game, could yet have its own sponsor.

Meanwhile, dual-registration will remain between Super League and part-time teams, although with amended regulations to account for the fact the parent and loan clubs could feasibly meet in the middle eight.

Championship clubs will also be allowed five overseas players, in line with Super League, rising from one this year, with two allowed in League 1.

All clubs across the three tiers will be allowed to spend on players a maximum of 50 per cent of their turnover, thus reducing the chance of overspending, while there will be a bigger punishment of 12 points for clubs entering into administration.

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