Performance on the pitch is only one part of deciding which clubs get a Super League spot

Performance on the pitch only counts for a quarter of a team’s fate in Super League under a 20-point plan to reinvent rugby league, presented to clubs by sports media giant IMG in Huddersfield on Thursday.

Finance, fandom, stadium and watershed are the other four areas that will form the rating system that IMG hopes will spark more and wider interest in the sport and lead to greater investment and broadcasting deals.

The proposals, which will require a majority of the 38 senior domestic clubs to vote in favor next month, will each be given an A, B or C grade and placed accordingly from the start of the 2025 season, after which automatic promotion and relegation system will be abolished.

The top-ranked clubs in the annually reviewed ratings are either elevated to, or immune from, relegation from the top flight, with the remaining places, including possible promotion from the Championship, being designated according to the top tier B sides.

The proposals continued to receive a cautious reception from officials assembled, with the exception of second-tier Keighley Cougars, the only party to vote against the original plan last October, whose co-owner Ryan O’Neill called Thursday’s developments “absolutely crazy.”

O’Neill and his partner Kaue Garcia distributed an 18-page brochure criticizing the plan and outlining their reasons for keeping the automatic up-and-down model, and pledged to start an online petition in hopes that the issue would be addressed in parliament would be discussed.

Leeds Rhinos v New Zealand - Bartercard International Challenge - Headingley Stadium

Leeds Rhinos appear to be one of the few clubs set to achieve first ‘A’ grades (Will Matthews/PA)

“You have to have a PHD in astrophysics to understand the rating system they put in place,” said an outraged O’Neill. “It’s absolutely crazy. What they are creating is an elite cartel.

They take away the opportunity. Why work my guts off and throw my money in so they would say well done Keighley you won the championship but London who finished sixth is moving up?

Three of the five factors – performance, fandom, which includes physical presence and digital engagement, and finance – are prioritized, with five points awarded to each club in each category.

The remaining two categories – stadium, which prioritizes facilities and use over ownership, and catchment, based on the population of the area and the number of clubs in the area, yield three and two points respectively.

Wakefield chairman John Minards, whose club appears to be in most immediate danger of dropping out of the top flight after a poor start to the current campaign, said he remained “generally positive” about the proposals, while York owner Clint Goodchild said they have “a lot of logic”.

But Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington seemed to accept that a hypothetical situation in which the second tier champions were not promoted in favor of a club that finished the season lower would not be good for the sport.

“That needs a lot more thought,” admitted Hetherington, whose Rhinos appear to be one of the few eligible for an A grade when the first dummy rankings are released at the end of this season. “This is a recommendation held back by the fact that it is a work in progress.”

Be Well Support Stadium file photo

Wakefield Chairman John Minards has given his tentative support to IMG’s proposals (Will Matthews/PA)

With the exception of Keighley, other lower-level clubs appear willing to support the IMG project, and officials dismissed O’Neill’s portrayal of a “closed shop”, insisting the plan will promote good practice by providing a clear path for aspiring clubs to to reach the goal. an A license.

Central to that path is the strong belief, expressed by Rhodri Jones, the managing director of Rugby League Commercial, that the sport must seize the opportunity to incorporate off-field factors into its promotion and relegation model.

“We’re not saying there isn’t movement between leagues, but what we need to avoid is a situation like six of the last seven seasons where the promoted teams all went straight back to the championship,” said Jones.

“What this review process is going to do is still reflect performance on the field, but you also need to be good or better in other areas that provide a sporting entertainment landscape.

“We can go through promotion and relegation and still end up in the same position three years from now, and everyone will look around and ask what has changed. This is our attempt to do something different, without taking it all away.”

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