Ukraine 2020 Rugby League Grand Final

Both the NRL and Super League seasons are scheduled to commence on 11th March 2021. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, these two great Rugby League competitions have faced similar financial problems, although adversity has also brought an increased willingness to adapt and evolve.

NRL exploring shorter player contracts

A period of great change appears to be on the horizon that will benefit clubs and players alike. The proposed NRL transfer review will explore the contracting system in 2021, opening the possibility of short-term contracts and player loans. Considering there is less money for clubs to spend right now, the proposed move to adapt the transfer system is welcomed by teams and players alike.

Already active in the Super League for a number of years, the short-term loan system could work equally well in the NRL. This might also be accompanied by the addition of a second trade window, granting clubs further flexibility to buy or sell players. In many respects, southern hemisphere clubs tightening their belts reflects society in general, especially in the entertainment business.

People are being more cautious with their money, which has led to industries being more creative insofar as how they attract custom. For example, online gambling and gaming brands in New Zealand are now offering minimum deposit casino options, whereby players can enjoy popular games with $1 deposits. These are usually accompanied by additional bonus funds.

Super League budget limits

Like many sports, Rugby League has been forced to face leaner times without the revenue typically enjoyed by having fans in stadiums, becoming increasingly more reliant on TV revenues than ever before. However, after the previous TV deal for the Super League was valued at around £40 million, Sky reduced their initial offer for a broadcasting contract renewal to just £20 million. However, that has now reportedly risen to nearer £30 million.

Concerned with the financial situation of several clubs, which are apparently dangerously close to insolvency, the Super League even explored the possibility of attracting private equity investment. This could have brought a cash injection of around £60 million, although there was inevitably opposition from a number of leading clubs, concerned that such a move would not be beneficial in the long run.

Ahead of the 2021 season, as always, the long-term sustainability and viability of clubs remains a priority. Each club must submit an operating budget for the season, which determines what can be spent on player signings and wages. This is referred to as the Club Sustainability Cap by the Super League. Last year, all 12 teams voted to maintain the current cap of £2.1m per team, although actual spend by many clubs is expected to be much less.

Hopes for the future

While there is no doubt that Rugby League in both hemispheres has endured tough times, periods of crisis can often bring about innovative thinking and creative solutions. Both the Super League and the NRL have shown great fighting spirit overcoming financial obstacles, considering new ideas and ways to help ensure the sport continues to thrive for years to come.