Premiership Rugby was forced to abandon its plan to push through ring-fencing at an RFU council meeting after BT Sport expressed strong opposition to the proposal. BT Sport is understood to believe that an end to relegation would “seriously damage” the value of the £110 million three-year television deal it signed with Premiership Rugby (PRL) in December. The broadcaster has concerns that losing relegation as one of the main storylines of the season would have a negative impact on viewer numbers and advertising revenue.
PRL could now be forced to pay out compensation if it wanted to press ahead with ring-fencing the league and bring a proposal back to the RFU council for a vote. “We think removing relegation completely devalues the league,” an insider said. “It means a lot more dead rubbers, only the top of the table becomes competitive and trying to build a narrative around avoiding relegation disappears.
“The ink has only just dried on the new contract and it seems that there is an attempt to move the goalposts in a big way. Scrapping relegation is not the way we would like it to go.”
Industry sources found it staggering that PRL could strike a television deal in December without securing alignment with BT Sport over proposals to make fundamental changes to the structure of the competition. PRL had been in discussions with the RFU for months to present a package that would appeal to the council, which has historically been against ring-fencing. The clubs want there to be no relegation for this season, leading to a 13-team top flight for the 2021-22 campaign. Saracens would have to win the Greene King IPA Championship, which is due to start on March 6, to secure a return to the Premiership. In return for a positive vote, PRL would agree to the structure of future seasons being reviewed, with the RFU’s aim being to improve England’s chances of winning the 2023 World Cup.
However, PRL was unable to proceed without BT Sport on board and contacted the RFU to request that the vote be pulled, as reported in The Times. The council was informed officially by email at 7.30am yesterday.
“The RFU council were due to table a vote today on proposals from the RFU around no relegation for the 2020-21 season from the Gallagher Premiership,” the RFU said in a statement. “The vote would also pave the way for a wider review of future seasons structures, including increased preparation time for the England senior men’s team ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023. “Late last night Premiership Rugby requested more time to conclude its consultation with stakeholders, therefore the vote will now be delayed.”