London identified by IMG as key in effort to transform rugby league

London has been dubbed a ‘sleeping giant’ of rugby league by IMG, who say success in the capital is high on their agenda when it comes to transforming the sport’s long-term prospects. The global media company agreed a 12-year deal with rugby league’s powerbrokers in May in an attempt to revolutionise the game on and off the field, with a licensing system set to replace conventional promotion and relegation for Super League by 2025.

IMG’s vice president for sports management, Matt Dwyer, says that capturing the attention of people in London and developing the sport in the city is firmly among their priorities after their research showed it ranks better than traditional rugby league cities in areas such as participation and interest.

The belief that London can become a success was heightened by England’s World Cup semi-final against Samoa at the Emirates Stadium in November, when the majority of those in attendance came from the capital. Dwyer stressed that while the plans will take time, London has the potential to become a rugby league powerhouse in the years ahead.

“The thing that surprised us is when we looked at all the data, you took the names off the cities and looked at participation, interest and a few other metrics, London was at the top and I don’t think anyone would have guessed that,” he said. “We’re all sitting there thinking there’s a sleeping giant here: we’re not saying London for the sake of it because it’s London. We’re saying it because there’s a future here and the metrics we’ve seen suggest it.”

Rugby league has tried to have a strong professional presence in London before. While London Broncos were a fixture in Super League for a prolonged period, they are now a part-time club playing in the sport’s second tier, the Championship. London Skolars play in the level below, League 1. Dwyer appeared to rule out creating a new London club but warned rugby league must learn from its past failings when it comes to the capital.

“The demographic from both participation and interest is very positive but we are going to need a club that’s competitive,” he said. “I’m keen to work with both clubs. But the step we’re at now is revisiting the past and working out what we can learn from that.

“It’s still very early days. It’s a long-term project, we’re not going to be able to click our fingers and 20,000 people will turn up to watch the Broncos. But it’s got the right foundations.”