Automatic promotion and relegation to and from the Betfred Super League will be axed from next season after clubs rubber-stamped proposals by the game’s long-term strategic partner IMG at a vote in Huddersfield on Wednesday.
Clubs and community bodies voted 88 percent in favour of making participation in the game’s top-flight dependent on a range of factors, including attendance, catchment area and facilities, with on-field performance accounting for just one quarter.
It means that, at the end of the 2024 campaign, the club finishing bottom of Super League could retain their place if they score higher in the 20-point system than either a top-flight rival or the top team in the Championship.
Rugby league chiefs successfully staved off a growing rebellion, led by Championship club Keighley Cougars, with seven clubs voting against. All Super League clubs voted in favour, with Salford, having initially abstained, subsequently indicating they wished to vote in favour.
Rhodri Jones, the managing director of RFL Commercial, said: “It’s a big development and a positive development for the game. We’ve done a lot of work in the last six weeks and this result is testament to that.”
The RFL and IMG maintain the changes are necessary in order to ‘re-imagine’ the sport, hauling it away from its parochial heartland along the M62 and maximising the attraction for development in new areas.
The move comes at a critical time, with talks ongoing over a new Sky television deal, but also amid promising attendance figures, with a record total of 83,357 having attended the six-match schedule over the Easter weekend.
Those clubs granted Grade A status – expected initially to be small handful – are guaranteed a place in Super League and will be automatically immune from relegation.
The remainder of the top-flight will be made up by Grade B clubs, in scoring order. Clubs face the prospect of being re-evaluated on an annual basis, meaning they could lose the immunity of top-level status, or conversely be immediately elevated to the top division.
Officials have been keen to separate the new plans from previous attempts at licensing, in both 2009 and 2012, which were launched with broadly similar intentions but were widely seen to have failed.
“This is live. It will get re-done on an annual basis so that if you’re not evolving, your score will be reflected.”
Keighley co-owner Kaue Garcia had sought to change clubs’ minds in a stirring speech to begin the council meeting, in which he insisted: “Anyone voting for these measures will be an accomplice to this tragedy and the sport will one day remember your names.
“IMG is masquerading on the false promise that this will elevate the standard of the sport, but it is a lie. There is no money on offer to elevate the standards, it is simply a way to allow the elites to sail away, and leave the rest of the sport adrift.
“If this proposal goes ahead, it will be the death of Championship, League One and other heartland clubs – simple and straight forward.”
Championship leaders Featherstone, who are currently in pole position to be the last team to achieve automatic promotion based purely on their on-field performance, also voted against the proposals.
Rovers said in a statement that, whilst they were “largely in agreement” with the measures presented by IMG and the RFL, they believed category B teams should still be ranked according to on-field results only.
“We firmly believe that further dialogue needs to take place on this fundamental issue,” said the statement.
“We were clearly told during the consultation period that a category B club would always replace another category B should a promotion/relegation situation arise. This position has changed in further variations of the proposals.”