SuperLeague is a good comp, with great atmosphere and passionate crowds, but it's struggling to pay the bills.http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/ja ... cial-abyss
Super League clubs on brink of financial abyss, says finance expert
• Super League clubs have 'combined debts of £60m'
• Former England coach admits many are struggling
The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013 10.45 GMT
The 2013 Super League is being launched on Monday, alongside claims it is facing a 'financial abyss'. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
Tony Smith, the former England coach, has expressed concern at a damning report that claims Super League clubs are on the edge of "a financial abyss".
The study, written by Rob Wilson, a sports finance specialist from Sheffield Hallam University, has revealed that 11 of the 14 top-flight clubs have combined debts of more than £60m.
The new season will start on Friday without a main sponsor and in the past six months two clubs, Bradford and Salford, have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Wilson's report, which featured on Monday's BBC Inside Out programme, overshadowed the Super League XVIII launch held at Manchester's Etihad Stadium.
Wilson said: "You have three or four teams that are doing very well, three or four teams doing poorly and a group of teams that struggle to wash their face financially. The overall effect is that the league itself will struggle for finance."
Smith's employers, Warrington, are one of the clubs in rude health, but he accepts there are problems in the game. "I think it's fair enough for people to be critical of the game," he said. "It keeps people on their toes and makes sure that they are accountable. If questions need to be asked, that's how it should be. Just because I'm at a club that is stable and well supported, it doesn't make it any less concerning.
"I think anybody involved in the game and certainly anybody who earns a living out of the game cares about it. It's been my sport for all my life and I want it to be the best it can be. It hurts to see it going through difficult times but sometimes we need shake-ups and reality checks. Hopefully we've the people in charge to do those things."
Wilson added: "The biggest challenge for the Super League is that there are too many teams generating insufficient turnover and generating too much cumulative debt. And that alarms me as someone who looks at finance in an academic environment, so using a term like rugby league is staring at the financial abyss isn't too harsh a thing to say."
Gary Hetherington, the chief executive of the champions Leeds, says the Rhinos have made a profit in each of the past nine years but concedes that mismanagement has caused problems at other clubs. "We're becoming heavily dependent on television revenue and also historically on benevolence," Hetherington said. "Where you find a problem, it's generally down to poor management from the top and often the withdrawal of a benefactor.
"The more underlying issue is the management of professional sport. I think there is a tendency in all our sports where the management focus on things like buying new players, changing the manager, appeasing the fans and reacting to pressure from the media rather than having a clear focus on growth and creating a surplus which can be re-invested into the business.
"We have a salary cap which should enable clubs to be profitable or at least break even. Given that there is more money coming into the sport than at any other time, it ought to make us very sustainable.I think in most cases now, clubs will be looking towards being sustainable. There have been some casualties in recent years but I think the sport will certainly have learned some lessons from those and it's in a much stronger position now to go forward."
Leeds begin the defence of their title against Hull at Headingley on Friday, when last season's league leaders Wigan visit Salford, who are expected to be in new hands by then. Warrington, the bookmakers' title favourites, open their campaign against Castleford on Sunday.