After reports emerged – and were later confirmed – that the Rugby Football League had demanded a financial guarantee from the top three non-UK based clubs in their league structure for them to participate in next year’s Challenge Cup.
The governing body requested a bond of around £750,000 from the clubs to enter the competition in order to cover any potential losses their appearance in the final could lead to. It is believed that Catalans – who are entering and aiming to retain the trophy – had to pay a smaller one with around half a million pounds rumoured to be their fee. Nevertheless, both Toronto and Toulouse from the Betfred Championship have refused to pay and, as a result, will not take part in the competition.
This calls into question the RFL’s appetite to successfully and effectively market the event, instead believing that the two finalists should bring tens of thousands of fans with them. However, it should imperative that the game’s governing body promote the showpiece occasion as a celebration of rugby league – much like the FA do with the FA Cup Final. In the past, tens of thousands of fans piled into the capital for the final regardless of their team – it was rugby league’s big day out. Now, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
As a result, the 2018 final was hit by the lowest post-war attendance as Catalans prevailed over Warrington Wolves. That day, thousands of fans – indeed seemingly all neutrals in the ground – were Dragons for a day. It is a rare thing that the French team bring to the sport – that they draw neutrals towards them simply because of their nationality. Their victory in the final earned them the attention of the nation’s media and, with it, a now-confirmed match held at FC Barcelona’s world-famous Camp Nou stadium.
Just think what, long term, Toronto could bring to the sport. In a huge country and continent which has been hitherto untouched by professional rugby league, their attraction could be huge and winning one of the biggest competitions in the sport would only benefit that. The Canadian team are one of the most marketable teams in the sport what with their status as the only pro North American team and their ability to pay big money to attract top players. It seems, however, that the RFL have turned down this long-term possibility in order to ensure immediate financial guarantees that their showpiece event will not produce losses.
That, however, could come back to bite the RFL on the backside – I hope that this is a one-time mistake.