Sky Sports looks at whether the Super League licensing system has been successful
By SkySportsPeo. Last Updated: 16/01/13 6:06pm
Super League is now four years into its controversial licensing system
In May 2005 it was announced Super League would be introducing a licensing system, whereby teams would need to fulfil certain criteria to maintain their top-flight status.
Everything from their fan base, strength of playing squad, to stadium would be graded and given a rating which would determine if they would add enough value to contribute to the continued success of Super League.
After 2007 automatic promotion and relegation was suspended with new Super League teams admitted on a licence basis with the term of the licence to start two years later.
The system was designed to raise standards in rugby league with teams striving for better while those who did not come up to scratch would find themselves on the outside looking in.
Four years into the directive, Sky Sports takes a look at whether the innovative move has been a success or a resounding failure.
19 clubs, including each of the 2008 Super League clubs, applied for three-year licenses from 2009. The league's first-ever Welsh team were born in Celtic Crusaders while the likes of well-known Featherstone Rovers, Halifax and Widnes Vikings missed out.
While the inclusion of the Crusaders brought excitement, the reality was that the team struggled to bring in the number of fans required to balance the books, while they also found themselves frequently on the end of lop-sided scorelines.
The benefits of having a Super League presence in Wales is hard to quantify, however, the legacy of an increased number of Welsh players playing the game cannot be underestimated.
As so often though, it ultimately boils down to finances. Crusaders' demise was as spectacular as it was sudden. Super League legend Keith Senior had signed a two-year contract to join the club ahead of the 2012-15 licensing period.
Stay of execution
A Super League club was always expected to miss out after it was confirmed Widnes, a club steeped in history with a solid fan base would be re-joining the top-flight in 2012.
Wakefield were the favourites to make way for the Vikings, but at the 11th hour Crusaders pulled the plug on the operation meaning a stay of execution for the Wildcats and leaving many, none more so than Senior, stunned.
The licenses were meant to promote stability and lay the platform for growth and development. The Crusaders, it seems, were just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2012 one of Super League's most successful sides, the Bradford Bulls, entered administration. The warning signs were there in January as the Rugby Football League bought the lease to the club's stadium - Odsal. How could a club with such success in the competition and a healthy fan base possibly run into financial trouble?
The licensing system was designed to reward clubs who were solvent while there were incentives for achieving an annual turnover in excess of £4million. However, were their procedures in place to highlight clubs that were running at a loss? Should the Bulls' financial plight have been spotted sooner?
Should a club with such prestige as the Bulls be dragged through the gutter with many fans wondering if they would even have a team to support in 2013. Thankfully for the Odsal faithful the club were taken over and granted a provisional license for the new Super League campaign.
But did the rot stop there? Sadly no. The Salford City Reds are now under the spotlight. The Greater Manchester club had been close to extinction themselves recently, only to be granted a lifeline after a winding-up petition brought against them was adjourned in court for a second time because of talks with a potential investor.
While the City Reds have nowhere near the track record of a club like the Bulls, it seems inconceivable that Salford were not on the RFL's radar so soon after the Bradford saga.
Surely the point, the aim and the goal of the license system was to stave off such negative publicity for the sport. The loss of promotion and relegation already has many critics, but with cracks appearing in the armour should the system persist beyond 2015?
Can clubs operate on solid foundations and plan for the future irrespective of the fact that they could be relegated, or does the drama of fighting to stay up on the last day overcome the financial loss that would impact a club forced to face up to life in the Co-operative Championship?
Sky Sports' verdict: The RFL should be credited with an innovative system. There have been many benefits and the game has come on leaps and bounds since the decision was taken to move the game from winter to summer. However, safeguards should have been in place to prevent the situations at the Crusaders, Bradford and Salford.