Plans for a radical shake up of the English Championship, which includes controversially ring-fencing the Gallagher Premiership for at least four years, includes a television deal potentially worth up to £12m a year split into five packages. RugbyPass has seen a copy of the 76-page plan for the second tier of English rugby put together by Ed Griffiths, the former Saracens chief executive, which has been presented to the Rugby Football Union and is now with the Premiership clubs, leading universities and potential broadcasting and sponsorship partners.

While the newly styled “The English Championship” would start in 2021-22 and has projected television revenue worth only a quarter of the current Premiership deal, the proposal is adamant a figure of between £10m and £12m would be possible to generate once the league is established and could be generated from outlets, including sports streaming companies and YouTube, and would feature Thursday and Friday fixtures.

The most extensive shake-up of the sport since rugby went professional is expected to be put before the 11 Championship clubs – relegated Saracens are not included – in its final draft by the end of August with an estimated running cost of £15.6m in its first year. 

This will come from significant investment from both the RFU and Premiership Rugby – recognising ring-fencing from 2021 to 2025 – on top of broadcasting and sponsorship revenues. The Championship will be split into two conferences of six teams, designated North and South, with at least 14 home matches in the various competitions.

Within two years the Championship will expand to 16 teams with a women’s championship also included in the proposals. 

Funding the Championship has become even tougher thanks to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the RFU facing losses of up to £100m and the Premiership clubs also struggling due to the lockdown. Even before the current financial crisis the RFU had announced it would reduce central funding for the Championship from £530,000 to £288,000 per club next season in a package of cuts totalling £3million.

In the face of this financial body blow, Griffiths was tasked with delivering a new vision for the Championship. His plan is designed to achieve that by turning the league into a nursery, producing outstanding young English talent that is then drip-fed into the Premiership via an annual American-style draft system.

The young players will emerge from six regional centres based across the country and linked to two clubs in a remodelled Championship. This system would replace the current 13 academies based on the Premiership clubs with the RFU funding diverted to the six new centres.

The proposal states that: “The RFU will cease providing a fixed subsidy to a generally failing system, and instead be asked to support a significantly improved system that enhances the game, delivers a clear return on investment and offers measurable success.”

Under the draft, 60 players would take part from the regional hubs with the worst performing Premiership club having first pick of players, who will be offered in four bands.

A player signed from the first pick will be given an annual salary of £90,000 for three years at his Premiership club with the fourth round picks collecting £50,000 a year over the same period. Young players would not be allowed to join a top-flight club straight from school, having to spend at least one year at an academy with the system controlled by the RFU.

The Premiership clubs will be asked to draft a minimum of 48 players each December and “to respect regulations that prevent any Premiership club from contracting any young English player from anywhere except the TEC Draft.”

Championship clubs would operate a minimum wage structure with no less than £600,000 in the pot in 2020-21 for a 35-man squad. Twelve of those players will be from the academies and their salaries not included in the £600,000, leaving that figure to be split between 23 players giving a salary of £22,000 each. This will be supplemented by outside employment with measures in place to ensure “phantom” jobs are not created to boost salaries.

Critically, only 10 players in a squad will be over the age of 24 emphasising the Championship’s position as the focal point for young English rugby talent. Players will be contracted to the league with clubs acting as third parties.

Coaches and referees are also key components of the plans, with three of the four senior coaches English at the Championship clubs, while the league will have six dedicated referees who will be paid £40,000 a year.

A joint “Promotion and Relegation Commission”, chaired by an independent QC, would decide on promotion to the Premiership from the 2025-26 season onwards and there is a proposal that states promotion from National League One to the Championship would also be suspended for at least two seasons.

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To expand the fixtures for Championship clubs there would be home matches against Tier Two/Three nations and a national knockout cup, plus a regional “division of origin” competition and an English Championship XV to tour France or South Africa.

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