RFL put finalised 2023 plans on hold until partner IMG delivers recommendations

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York City Knights centre James Glover (right) celebrates his try against Barrow Raiders with Joe Brown (left) and Matty Marsh (centre). Picture: Craig Hawkhead
York City Knights centre James Glover (right) celebrates his try against Barrow Raiders with Joe Brown (left) and Matty Marsh (centre). Picture: Craig Hawkhead

THE Rugby Football League has put a hold on plans to finalise the 2023 season until it receives interim recommendations from its new strategic partner IMG.

Two months on from announcing a 12-year strategic partnership, RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer says the New York-based global marketing company has begun its work on restructuring and re-imagining the sport.

Rimmer stresses that the three-division structure, with promotion and relegation, will remain intact for next season.

But key dates and representative fixtures have not yet been announced and will not be until IMG concludes its initial fact-finding exercise, leaving York City Knights somewhat in the dark in the Betfred Championship.

"There will be no changes for 2023," Rimmer told the PA news agency. "There might be some changes in transition at the end of 2023 but we'll see how that comes together.

"We'll do lots of different permutations while we await the outcome of IMG's consultations."

The appointment of the media giant followed a re-alignment of the RFL and Super League and the formation of a new joint venture company to maximise rugby league's commercial potential.

Central to those hopes are IMG, who are not being paid by the RFL and will instead take a share of any profits generated through fresh initiatives.

"They're incentivised to do well," Rimmer said. "It's a win-win for us.

"We looked across a spectrum of suitors and other models and at the possibility of an equity stake in the sport.

"We don't have to do that, nevertheless we get some expertise which will drive us in a different direction. In the IMG deal, we've got a really good balance.

"If the sport wins, they win and that's a pretty decent relationship as far as I'm concerned."

Top of IMG's in-tray will be a television deal to replace the new two-year agreement with Sky that runs out at the end of 2023 but Rimmer says the company will have an all-encompassing remit to work on bringing about change.

"There are lots of different elements to the project," he said. "Lots of people are focusing on what the competition structure might look like but this is about them bringing resource and expertise to help promote ourselves and put the sport on different platforms going forward.

"It's a complicated piece of work. First of all we had to realign the government because whoever came in to support us needed to know they could influence what was going on.

"Beyond that we wanted somebody who could help drive change. We wanted expertise from outside the world of rugby league and we've got that. Nevertheless, their rugby league knowledge is pretty strong.

"They are doing some work in the background about how we might promote the game and what the competition structure might look like from 2024 onwards but we need to get the ball rolling before that.

"So hopefully we'll create some sort of tsunami that will take us through to 2024 and beyond."

Most observers were surprised at the length of the deal with IMG and Rimmer says it was the RFL which pushed for 12 years.

"That was one of the attractions for me, we actually drove that," he said. "It was really important we got a globally recognised partner that had some time in the game with us.

"Their reputations are on the block here - and ours are as well - but we wanted that long-term relationship so that we can grow. No doubt it will evolve as we go along.

"Someone coming in for a couple of years and having an impact or not and disappearing again is not what we were looking for. Stability is one thing we've always sought."

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