WIGAN chairman Ian Lenagan put a dampener on the launch of the new Super League season with a condemnation of the new television deal.
While Rugby Football League chairman Brian Barwick bullishly predicted a bright new future at the launch of the 2014 First Utility Super League campaign in Manchester, Lenagan accused administrators of selling the game short.
Fresh from agreeing a radical new structure for the game and unveiling new sponsors, Super League last week announced a new five-year deal with Sky Sports worth around £200million with yet-to-be revealed rights to the Challenge Cup and internationals.
The current five-year deal, valued at around £127m, does not run out until the end of 2016 and Lengan is disappointed that the deal was not put out to tender, particularly with BT Sport now on the scene.
“I believe it is a dreadful commercial decision to be agreeing in 2014, with three years still to go on Super League’s current deal, a new deal for Super League TV rights for the five future years at only a 30 per cent increase and without going out to tender,” Lenagan told the League Express newspaper.
“Super League should have achieved considerably more than that from committing the next eight years or should have extended for two years only, leaving us then able to renegotiate for 2017-21 in what appears to be an increasingly competitive market in favour of sellers.
“We are now shut out from any increase in the value of broadcasting rights over an eight-year period. BT Sport are very serious competitors and they are in it for the long term.”
Lenagan is particularly angry that clubs were given only 24 hours notice of the meeting to discuss the deal and a limited amount of time to discuss the details before being forced into an immediate take-it-or-leave-it vote.
Lenagan argues that the clubs, who were promised an immediate down payment of £300,000 as part of the deal, were effectively railroaded into voting in favour and reveals he regrets the stance he took on the day.
“I regret immensely that, under the pressure of time and a stated desire for some unanimity, I voted Wigan in favour of accepting the deal because it was clear that financially-challenged clubs would support it,” he added.
“I awakened the next day and regretted immensely my voting which – given time to consider properly – would have been strongly against this particular deal.
“I also resent being coerced into taking an immediate position on something that is so vital for the future of the game.”
Super League clubs are set to share more than £146m of the new deal, with £14.5m going to the second-tier Championship and £1.8m to Championship One.
The blot on the horizon is the financial crisis engulfing two of the 14 Super League clubs, Bradford and Wakefield, while London Broncos have been forced to virtually build a new team from scratch after almost folding in the close season.
However, Barwick believes the new television deal will give all the clubs a chance to prosper.
“Whilst it’s clear that some clubs just have to try harder to manage their affairs better, the new broadcast deal delivered this week gives the whole game an opportunity to put some of those issues behind them,” Barwick said.
The new season gets under way on Friday when Wigan launch their title defence against 2013 league leaders Huddersfield at the DW Stadium.