As is clearly visible across all sports, this recent pandemic has shut down all activity as we once knew it – but in the case of rugby league teams, it could be all the more devastating. Due to their relatively small budgets (comparable to League One football clubs), teams in England’s top tier rely on the business brought in by foreign competition to bolster revenue.
Whilst there is no doubt that global competition brings many benefits to the game, in such times its effectiveness and financial sustainability are being called into question. Even as early as 13 March we saw that the Catalans Dragons, hailing from Perpignan in Southern France, had no choice but to cancel its home fixture due to the escalating Coronavirus situation in France, while at the same time other games went ahead in England. Three days later Toronto Wolfpack announced that it had suspended training and stood down all UK based staff as four of its players began to experience symptoms.
These problems could have serious consequences for the ability of the league to stay afloat in a post-pandemic world given that clubs will wish to complete the current season rather than void it, so as to not lose out on vital matchday revenue. If this is to be the case then it would put a much larger strain on clubs based outside of the UK given the cost of travel in a shorter period of time and future potential travel restrictions that could be put in place. This may result in such teams having to forego their home advantage for the remaining fixtures, which is often seen as the difference between a win and a loss in tight games. It is no surprise that Toronto is one of the teams to have come forward to suggest that there should be no relegation this season, given its struggles in the league.
In spite of this it has been announced that two new teams will join the English league structure from 2021: The Ottawa Aces and a New York Rugby League side. This is a clear indication of where the game wishes to grow its fanbase – even if that does mean opening itself up to the risk of its current predicament resurfacing in the future.