Rugby league 'dead' without a new concept, says Hull FC owner Adam Pearson

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Hull FC fans
Hull FC are seventh in the Super League table

Hull FC owner Adam Pearson says rugby league will be "dead" if the game does not relaunch with a new concept.

He warns the game is careering towards becoming part-time unless it brings in huge investment from private equity.

But Pearson also told the latest BBC 5 Live Rugby League podcast that the sport could be set to reinvent itself if the right decisions are taken in the next twelve months.

"It's now or never for me this summer," he said.

"We're working now pretty cohesively behind the scenes. We've got some experience now looking at the game, and I think in the next two to three months the strategy will finally come to the fore, be published and agreed and hopefully save the game.

"We need to launch a product that is going to attract the next generation. There are some interesting ideas coming in.

"What The Hundred has done for cricket, its saturation of coverage and the gates and the excitement, we have to find a similar concept in rugby league, alongside the traditional format otherwise we're dead."

Pearson, a former executive director of Leeds United and ex-chairman of Derby County, believes the game is facing its biggest crisis in his 11-year involvement at Hull. But private finance, and the expertise that comes with that, could ensure a bright future.

"We need to find the right partner from a sports background," he added.

"If you get private equity from the right sports background, who wants to say pump in, say, £90m to £100m for 30% of Super League, let's get that money in.

"Every sport is taking money from private equity. CVC has pumped in hundreds and hundreds of millions into rugby union. We've not taken a penny yet in Rugby League. So, we just need to find the right partner.

The Hundred
The Hundred, a new format introduced to cricket, has been a huge success this summer

"We need expertise into marketing, into commercial, into sponsorship, into advertising. These modern PE (Private Equity) funds that are dealing with sporting sectors and sporting brands can offer that.

"And if we don't harness the kind of specific support that other sports are getting, we're going to be lost.

"We're not at the forefront executive wise, we're not at the forefront ideas wise, and we're not looking at every other sport and cherry-picking ideas like these guys are.

"I think it's £600m now into rugby union. We could relaunch our entire sport with that. Even if we got a third of it, we'd still be knocking on rugby union's door."

However, Pearson added that rugby league has only a 12-month window in which to act, otherwise its existence as a top-flight sport would be seriously threatened.

He says the Super League clubs' realignment with the RFL, the game's governing body, needs to come about sooner rather than later. And he also warns that club owners must put self-interest to one side for the good of the game as a whole.

"We have to get the realignment right with the Rugby Football League, then there has to be an independent set of directors that are appointed to run Super League, because there is too much self-interest at the minute. All the owners are chipping in, me included, trying to get the best deal for their club. That needs to stop.

"Once you've got that independent set of directors, they need to appoint a private equity partner who will put executives into a commercial board. That then should have full remit to come up with a strategic plan for the game that it puts before Super League and the RFL and we go from there.

"If it includes merged clubs, it includes merged clubs. We have to consider it. It is an unknown we're going into and we have to be brave. Because if we're not brave now and we're not intelligent now and we don't take self-interest off the table, I'm telling you the sport's going down the pan.

"We have to have alignment and a new board before Christmas, a PE partner by early spring and a strategic plan by spring and ratified by next summer.

"We're in a 12-month window. If it doesn't follow that time scale, we've got problems."

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