Wakefield Trinity chief warns rugby league at risk of going part-time again

<span>Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA</span>
Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA

One of Super League’s longest-serving chief executives has warned that rugby league risks reverting to a part-time sport if there major and systemic changes are not made to the game away from the field. The Wakefield Trinity CEO, Michael Carter, will step down from his role at the club by the end of this season after 10 years in charge at Belle Vue.

However, he has warned the sport is in a “big hole”, and has urged everyone to throw their support behind IMG’s plans to attempt to transform the sport or risk catastrophic consequences. The global media company signed a 12-year deal with the Rugby Football League last year and has proposed widespread changes to the way the game is run, including replacing conventional promotion and relegation with a grading system that will effectively place the 12 best-performing clubs on and off the field in Super League from 2025.

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Carter also warned that with a reduced broadcast deal from Sky Sports severely affecting club finances, rugby league could be in serious danger if it repeats the mistakes of old. “I think the game is in a big hole,” he told the Guardian. “We’re pinning all our hopes on IMG being the saviour of the sport, and we’ve got one broadcaster in Sky who pays some money and a couple of others who do a fantastic job but I’m not convinced they have the money to invest in the game.

“There’s now a lot of other sports vying to get into the big five sports, which we’re currently in. It’s not going to be easy moving forwards and I don’t think anyone expects it to be, but I think being part-time again is a possibility. If the TV deal keeps going the way it is, certainly that could be the case. Unless you’ve a wealthy benefactor that will fund every single club, I think you’re looking at the future and wondering what it holds. There are massive challenges and difficulties for the sport.”

Wakefield will appoint Carter’s replacement before the end of the season and he has suggested the club will look to an individual outside rugby league, with the club set to open a revamped main stand this summer in an attempt to boost profitability away from the rugby field. But he has urged those remaining in the sport at boardroom level to give IMG their backing.

“We’ve given them our faith to say we’ll work as well as we can with them to get the sport to a better place because we’ve no other option,” he said. “We’ve got to trust them, give them as much help as possible to get on and do what they do. Without them, there’s nothing else. We’ve tried to go off on our own and it hasn’t worked. Sky are saying that viewers and subscribers have remained stagnant so we’ve got to break the mould somehow.”