RUGBY league is heading into a brave new world after finally confirming a deal with sports giant IMG that will see the sport ‘reimagined.’
The 12-year 'strategic partnership' will almost certainly see them get a seat on the new five-person Rugby League Commercial body being set up as part of the realignment of Super League and the Rugby Football League.
They will also form part of the thinking that may see the game’s structure changed – with two full-time divisions of 10 teams from 2024 being mentioned.
This agreement is NOT the private equity deal, similar to rugby union's with CVC, which has been heavily mooted.
But it does promise to propel the 13-a-side code into a new arena in terms of broadcasting and its place in the sporting world, with new strategies for the way it is marketed and promoted being drawn up and implemented.
Normally known for its broadcasting – which it does for Channel 4’s Super League coverage – IMG boasts an events arm, which owns the UFC.
It is also involved in rugby union, dealing with commercial rights for the 2023 World Cup, tennis in Wimbledon and the Australian Open and football with La Liga and Real Madrid.
IMG also licenses products for the UFC, the Bundesliga, Barcelona, Manchester City, Royal Ascot and The Open.
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RFL chairman Simon Johnson said: “IMG is a global giant in the sports and entertainment industry and this alliance is fantastically exciting for our future. I have no doubt that 2022 will now prove to be a watershed year in the history of rugby league."
Adam Kelly, co-president of media & events at IMG, added: “We see tremendous potential to further energise the sport and its competitions in the UK.”
Rugby League Commercial is believed to have been set up to help the IMG deal progress and the prospect of a unified approach to pitching rugby league to businesses is seen as a step forward by Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick.
However, he feels the ‘split’ from the RFL had to happen and has resulted in this new approach.
He said: “The joint venture has put the sport in a better position. It can go forward to maximise and hopefully commercialise the sport better than it has done previously.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity and chance for the sport to grow.
“At the time, the ‘split’ had to happen. The feedback I had from my directors at that time was it was the right thing to do.
“Now the RFL is in a significantly different place than it was pre-breakaway. It’s good they’ve listened and changed.
“Now this entity allows the governing body to concentrate on what it does best – govern the game.”
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