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Premiership Rugby clubs fail in bid to scrap automatic relegation

The 13 clubs of Premiership Rugby have admitted defeat in their attempts to scrap relegation from the division to the second-tier Championship.

The proposal to end promotion and relegation was intended to boost commercial revenues for England’s top rugby teams, at at time when only one Premiership side – Exeter Chiefs – reported a profit for the 2017-18 season, with the other 12 posting a collective £50m loss. 

Premiership clubs had hoped to expand the division to 13 clubs for the 2020-21 season, with one team being promoted from the Championship and none relegated at the end of the 2019-20 season. From the 2020-21 season, a play-off would take place between the teams that finished bottom of the Premiership and top of the Championship. Given the relative strength of the 13 Premiership member clubs, this would have even further limited the ability of Championship clubs to access the top division and increase their revenues. 

Earlier this year, clubs in the Championship threatened legal action if the Premiership pursued its ring-fencing strategy, prompting the top clubs to respond by offering to increase their annual funding of the second-tier by £500,000, from £1.7m to £2.2m. This proposal was rejected by the Championship clubs.

According to ESPN, a Premiership spokesperson claimed that this was not a definitive end to the attempts, noting that it was “just a question of timing” and adding that “constructive discussions will continue.” The Premiership Rugby board meets again in October, when it will look to re-energise the conversation. 

This is not the first time Premiership Rugby has tried to safeguard its top clubs by doing away with relegation. The previous attempt, in 2015, also ended in defeat for the clubs.  However, since investment firm CVC Capital Partners acquired a stake in Premiership Rugby late last year, it has doubled-down on efforts to increase the commercial revenue potential of the league and its clubs, meaning the debate is unlikely to go away quietly this time.