Leeds-based club 'less than impressed' with lowly IMG ranking

Hunslet RLFC say they are “less than impressed” after being ranked 29th out of rugby league’s 35 professional clubs.
Hunslet  celebrate their win over Leeds Rhinos in this year's pre-season Harry Jepson Memorial Trophy tie. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.Hunslet  celebrate their win over Leeds Rhinos in this year's pre-season Harry Jepson Memorial Trophy tie. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.
Hunslet celebrate their win over Leeds Rhinos in this year's pre-season Harry Jepson Memorial Trophy tie. Picture by Craig Hawkhead/Leeds Rhinos.

The RFL today (Wednesday) announced ‘indicative’ gradings - based on playing performance, fandom, finances, stadium and community - as part of a partnership with sports marketing giant IMG.

The system, guaranteeing category A sides a place in Betfred Super League, will come into effect at the end of next season. The dummy rankings are designed to give clubs “a clear indication of their strengths and weaknesses and the areas in which they need to improve to increase their score in 2024”, according to the governing body.

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Hunslet, who voted against the new system earlier this year, received a C grade after totalling just 6.94 out of a possible 20. They scored 0.46 out of five on performance, 2.05/5 on fandom, 1.75/4.5 on finances, 0.68/3 for their stadium and 2/2.5 on community.

The stand at Hunslet's South Leeds Stadium home ground. Picture by Chris Mangnall/SWpix.com.The stand at Hunslet's South Leeds Stadium home ground. Picture by Chris Mangnall/SWpix.com.
The stand at Hunslet's South Leeds Stadium home ground. Picture by Chris Mangnall/SWpix.com.

Chief executive Neil Hampshire described Hunslet’s score as disappointing and claimed the process is “overly bureaucratic and complicated for fans to understand”. He said: “As an example of the bureaucracy, completing the return also required us to submit duplicate figures to the RFL from the last two years. We have made it plain to the RFL we do not accept that level of administrative burden to continue. From here on in we should, really, only have to provide data for one year.”

The Parksiders’ chairman also feels his club are at a disadvantage financially. “We shouldn't forget this is a whole-game comparison and we are being ranked against some clubs who have received around £40m in central funding since the inception of Super League in 1996,” he stated. “Top-end Championship clubs will also have had significantly more funding during that period. Obviously, that has given them more opportunity to invest and grow their business and stadiums.

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“That's not a criticism, but a realism we are not operating on a level playing field. It would be interesting to undertake a comparison of the IMG grading score ranked against the central funding received by each club since 1996.

Hunslet chief executive Neil Hampshire. Picture by Hunslet RLFCHunslet chief executive Neil Hampshire. Picture by Hunslet RLFC
Hunslet chief executive Neil Hampshire. Picture by Hunslet RLFC
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“Going forward, if we are serious about return on investment, we believe there also needs to be some adjustment made to reflect that gap in central funding, even if it is just for the three-year period under review.”

Hampshire revealed the club are working with landlords Leeds City Council to address issues with their South Leeds Stadium base and are “confident our score will increase in that area in 2024”. He insisted: “On the performance front, the report period for 2023 covered 2020 to 2022 and so this year's second-placed finish in Betfred League One will be taken into account in next year's return.

“The RFL will now be undertaking a review of the IMG grading criteria process and we will certainly be happy to input into that. Oh for the days when the rewards for sport were focussed on how you performed on the pitch."

Promotion and relegation between the Championship and League One will continue and is unaffected by the grading system.