The Club have moved quickly to appraise their supporters – and the wider Rugby League public – of their reaction to their initial IMG grading score.

Under IMG’s grading system, which is predicated on `return on investment’, clubs are assessed not solely on on-field performance but, in addition, on finances, fanbase size, stadia, catchment area and social media following. Such as TV viewing figures, ticket sales and stadium big screens can also come into the equation.

The South Leeds Stadium outfit were among the clubs that, earlier this year, voted against the system, stating that the Rugby Football League, which had instructed clubs to determine in a four-week consultation period their stance, had declined at that stage to submit its internally-published booklet in which full details of IMG’s plans and proposals were contained.

The Parksiders – who, at the time, were the only professional supporter-owned club in the country – did not therefore feel able to rationally support an initiative on which they would have been `voting blind’. And at a meeting on Tuesday 18 April not a single vote was cast in favour of IMG’s plans; there were two abstentions.

Some six months down the line, Hunslet have been less than impressed by their ‘score’ as allocated by IMG. Their total of 6.94 (from a possible 20) comprises:

  • Performance: 0.46 (from a possible 5)
  • Fandom: 2.05 (from a possible 5)
  • Finances: 1.75 (from a possible 4.5)
  • Stadium: 0.68 (from a possible 3)
  • Community: 2.00 (from a possible 2.5)

CEO Neil Hampshire said, in a message to Hunslet’s loyal fans posted on the club’s website: “The criteria are based on a mixture of three-year averages and in-year achievements. 2023 is a ‘dummy’ year so that clubs can get used to the process. The scoring will formally come into play in 2024 when the results from that year’s exercise will determine the top twelve teams in Super League for 2025.

“It’s important to note, though, that the grading score has absolutely no impact on promotion and relegation between Championship and League 1. Like us, I know a lot of you will look at the figure and see it as disappointing, but there are a few points I would make:

“As you will be aware, we voted against the introduction of grading. No one can ever be against improving standards, but this system has proved overly bureaucratic and complicated for fans to understand. As an example of the bureaucracy, completing the return also required us to submit duplicate figures to the RFL from the last two years; we have made it plain to the RFL that we do not accept that level of administrative burden to continue. From here on in we should, really, only have to provide data for one year.”

He added: “We shouldn’t forget that this is a whole-game comparison and we are being ranked against some clubs who have received around £40m central funding since the inception of Super League in 1996. Indeed, top-end Championship clubs will also have had significantly more funding during that period too. Obviously, that has given them more opportunity to invest and grow their business and stadiums. That’s not a criticism, but a realism that we are not operating on a level playing field. It would be interesting to undertake a comparison of the IMG grading score ranked against the central funding received by each club since 1996. Going forward though, if we are serious about return on investment, we believe that there also needs to be some adjustment made to reflect that gap in central funding, even if it is just for the three-year period under review.”

Hampshire continued: “We are already working with Leeds City Council to address issues around the South Leeds Stadium, and are confident that our score will increase in that area in 2024. On the performance front the report period for 2023 covered 2020 to 2022 and so this year’s second-placed finish in Betfred League 1 will be taken into account in next year’s return.”

He concluded: “The RFL will now be undertaking a review of the IMG grading criteria process and we will certainly be happy to input into that. Oh for the days when the rewards for sport were focussed on how you performed on the pitch!”