The Hull Kingston Rovers owner, Neil Hudgell, has warned that rugby league may cease to exist as a full-time sport by next year if it does not receive support from both the government and key broadcast partners through the coronavirus pandemic.
With the 2020 Super League season looking unlikely to resume any time soon, Hudgell has issued a stark warning over rugby league’s ability to cope long-term without financial support.
Hudgell says the game must use the enforced break to “restructure and streamline” itself, and urged the sport’s key figures to unite and try to secure key funding from the government.
“Without that, and a broadcaster that doesn’t cut us some slack, we may not be around as a full-time elite sport come the end of the year,” Hudgell said. “The government will expect us to cut out unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy if they can be convinced to assist us. Similarly, Sky will want a joined-up approach and we need to look to complete the full season.”
He also stressed rugby league could not afford to carry the amount of professional clubs it does. There are 39 playing in the sport’s three professional divisions, and Hudgell believes it must adjust. “This is a chance to restructure the whole game,” he said.
“The professional game cannot afford two executive bodies [Super League and the Rugby Football League run as two separate entities], and it cannot afford 30-plus professional clubs. We need a streamlined sport where only clubs with top-league ambitions are professional. We need a united front and we can best do that as one whole entity.”
Hudgell also wants assurances over whether promotion and relegation will continue this year before he invests any more money into Hull KR, which he has backed to the tune of millions of pounds since he assumed control of the Super League club in 2005.
“I want to know what’s happening in that regard. If we end up with a skewed fixture list and compromising integrity, you can be sure I’m not putting in six months’ graft if I run the risk of relegation at the end of it. I want those assurances by the time we look to get playing again. Until then, I’m not committing any more money to the sport: I’d be crazy to do so.”
Hudgell confirmed he has implemented wage cuts for all Hull KR playing and non-playing staff until the end of November, and has suggested the possibility of pay-per-view streaming of games when the season does return to produce extra revenue streams for Super League.
“We will review the pay cuts earlier if circumstances change but we don’t expect the landscape to get any better. Games behind closed doors will lose us money, but if we can stream games and charge for them, that might be a partial solution.”