The stakeholders of Premiership Rugby are seeking “crucial” talks with the Rugby Football Union about the structure of the sport in England, which could see promotion and relegation to and from the top division scrapped.
SportBusiness reported in December that the owners of the 13 member clubs were considering ring-fencing rugby union’s top division in an attempt to maximise commercial revenues. At yesterday’s monthly board meeting, the owners agreed that “now is the right time to sit down with the RFU” and discuss the matter, a spokesperson said, adding that the league was looking to “deliver long-term financial sustainability for professional rugby in England.”
The proposal would see the Premiership expanded to 13 teams from the current 12, with London Irish – a Premiership stakeholder which currently plays in the second tier – taking the final spot.
Despite the RFU’s interim chief executive, Nigel Melville, calling the plans “wishful thinking” in December, the governing body has said it is willing to “look at any proposal through the lens of what is right for the game”.
A legal challenge from clubs below the Premiership could yet put the brakes on the move, however. According to the BBC, several Championship clubs have already signalled their intention to take legal action if they are excluded from the Premiership.
Despite the struggles of several Championship clubs in the top flight in recent years – including London Welsh being forced out of business after losing all 22 games in the competition following promotion in 2014 – the division still offers considerably higher broadcast and commercial revenues to clubs.