Super League has been warned it faces a fresh cash crisis in a programme due to be screened tonight.
Inside Out, scheduled on BBC One at 7.30, claims that Super League is on the edge of a financial abyss, with combined debts of at least £60million.
An investigation by sports finance specialist Rob Wilson from Sheffield Hallam University for Inside Out looks at the balance sheets of 11 of the 14 Super League teams (information was not available from three clubs).
The Bulls entered administration last year and were only saved from the brink of liquidation by Omar Khan’s purchase of the club at the 11th hour.
Wakefield and Crusaders have also experienced serious financial difficulties in recent season and Salford are on the verge of being taken over after a similar financial meltdown.
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 biggest challenge for Super League is that there are too many teams generating insufficient turnover and generating too much cumulative debt.
“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.”
Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell admitted: “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.”
But Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington insists his own club is in comparatively good financial health. Hetherington said: “The product on the field has never been better, the crowds are very strong, the TV audiences are very strong and the game itself is as good as it’s ever been.
“We don’t want that overshadowed by incompetence at club level and that’s what we’ve seen in recent years.
“So we need to rid ourselves of poor management practices. All clubs have a real responsibility; a real role to play. The majority of clubs are working hard – it’s some of the others that have let the sport down, quite frankly.”
A Rugby Football League spokesman added: “The sport has worked and is continuing to work hard to tackle this issue.
“Indeed, a good number of Super League clubs are run successfully and profitably without having to rely on the largesse of wealthy owners and the quality of management at club level is improving all the time.
“The £60million combined debt of 11 Super League teams should be contextualised. The figure pales into insignificance compared to the debts accrued by Premiership and Championship football clubs and many Premiership rugby union clubs.”