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Warning issued over Super League finance
Super League clubs are on the edge of "a financial abyss" with combined debts of more than £60million, according to a sports finance specialist.
Rob Wilson, from Sheffield Hallam University, came up with the conclusion after analysing the balance sheets of 11 of the 14 Super League teams for the BBC's Inside Out programme - information was not available from the other three clubs.
Wilson said: "You have three or four teams that are doing very well, three or four teams doing poorly and a group of teams that struggle to wash their face financially. The overall effect of that is that League itself will struggle for finance."
The programme will go out in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and the north-west at 7.30pm on Monday, just hours after the new Super League season is launched in Manchester.
The Rugby Football League has issued a strong rebuttal, with director of standards and licensing Blake Solly insisting the game remains in "robust health" as clubs prepare to kick off World Cup year.
Super League clubs are guaranteed an income stream in excess of £90million from the Sky television deal but the new season will start on Friday without a main sponsor and in the last six months two clubs, Bradford and Salford, have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.
Wilson added: "The biggest challenge for the Super League is that there are too many teams generating insufficient turnover and generating too much cumulative debt. And that alarms me as someone who looks at finance in an academic environment, so using a term like rugby league is staring at the financial abyss isn't too harsh a thing to say."
BBC Inside Out presenter George Riley speaks to some of the sport's leading figures to test the financial health of the game and whether there is any room for optimism.
Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell issued a warning on the state of the game last year and 12 months on he sees little improvement.
He says: "I think probably on the whole it's a little bit worse than it was last year. Every year we make a loss and every year as directors we've funded that shortfall. I think it'd be very hard for us to argue otherwise than we live beyond our means."