English rugby union’s top tier club competition the Premiership will hold talks over plans to expand to 14 teams through temporarily suspending promotion and relegation.
Last month the Telegraph newspaper reported that the majority of Premiership clubs were in favour of increasing their number from 12 to 14 by the start of the 2016-17 season. Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty today (Monday) confirmed that his organisation will hold discussions with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) over expansion without relegation to the second-tier Championship over the coming two or three years.
“We are looking at that,” he said, according to the Press Association news agency. “The game is growing significantly, and that rate of growth is such that we are looking at plans for expansion on a number of fronts. The size and competition of the league is one of them. We think it might be possible to develop the league in a way that includes one or two more clubs in terms of the competition.
“We know there are sensitivities around that but it’s also the case that the expansion of the league, the inclusion of one or two more teams in that, and ultimately in time maybe even more teams, is a basis for again putting strength into the English game. Those plans are being looked at correctly, and we would only do it if it’s right for the English game.”
The news came as Premiership Rugby today signed a four-year extension to its television rights deal with BT Sport taking in the 2017-18 to 2020-21 seasons. Premiership clubs and the RFU are currently renegotiating the heads of agreement deal that governs the release of players for international duty, with expansion set to form part of these talks.
The RFU last week agreed a five-year deal, from the 2015-16 season until 2019-20, to increase the amount of money it pays to teams in the Championship. Under the agreement, English rugby union’s governing body will increase its central funding of the Championship to include a range of elements designed to enhance the competition.
Clubs will be required to allocate a percentage of funding to developing their facilities while the RFU will contribute towards player medical insurance fees. In addition, the new agreement will increase funding in the British & Irish Cup competition.