It’s a story that’s been all over the news in recent weeks and has advocates from either side of the divide vehemently arguing their case – no, it’s not Brexit. As the Gallagher Premiership heads into the European break the perennial issue of ringfencing has raised its head above the parapet once again.
It seems inevitable that the pulling up of the trap door seems imminent, be it at the end of this season or next. However, if you speak to the average man on the street it is a change that may not be as popular as those in power would have you believe. Of course, the driving force behind the conversation this time is the fact that almost half way through the season only four points (less than one win) cover the bottom seven teams. There are some big names at risk, that historically have been indifferent to the problem and unconcerned by its consequences, that are now waking up to the serious prospect of a season in the Championship. There are benefits to ringfencing, but careful consideration does need to be given to the downsides, reverting this decision may not be as easy.
Scrapping relegation will also rid the consumer of a great proportion of the tension and drama that is unfolding with every twist and turn of this season. There will doubtless be an increase in the number of fixtures that have no relevance, which in turn may lead to less involvement of marquee players – will this still attract the paying customer? It’s not a spectacle and it’s not what many fans want. Yes, more youngsters will be blooded, but will their cultivation be taking place in a highly pressurised environment which incentivises the consequence of winning and losing? Allowing players the opportunity to perform and think under pressure will teach them invaluable lessons that may bear fruit on a European or International stage.
(Exeter are a prime example of how promotion can work)
It is the culture of the club as opposed to the league that can drive player development, teams like Saracens and Exeter, never at risk from relegation, still find place to rest their top players and blood the next wave with little disruption. Speaking of Exeter, they are often wheeled out as the example as to why promotion works, but let’s not forget that Northampton and Harlequins have both been relegated since the turn of the century and both came straight back up and went on to win the title. If a big name does go down this year – it is not a death sentence, but an opportunity to clear the decks and re-energise. You could argue that ringfencing is technically already in place, just with the 13th team taking a year away in the Championship. However, there is still a small glimmer of hope for everyone else to aspire to – one of sports strongest foundations, an incentive to win. But, would potential investors still see the potential and hope if they’re just paying to sit at the top of the Championship? The owners plough millions of pounds into their teams but part of the appeal is because sport is a risk – the essence of venture capitalism. Bristol are a working example of how this gamble could pay off, they have been promoted and are a good bet to stay up and potential qualify for Europe – proof that the current system works.
(The Pro 14 doesn’t have relegation and there is often little competition and fan incentive)
The Pro 14 is often maligned by views from the outside and the lack of serious competition is a big factor in this. To the Premiership big wigs; the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. There is another way to increase competition level and reduce player load: Reduce the size of the Premiership to 10 teams and increase investment in the Championship, but maintain promotion and relegation, this could be further enhanced by more centralised ownership. Quality will increase and there will be genuine competition between all teams across the board.
Written By James Jones – 11/12/18