The Aviva Premier League is the top tier of competitive rugby in England. It contains professional rugby clubs following the game going professional in season 1996/7. The league comes under the governing body of rugby union in England, the Rugby Football Union. The top flight league has evolved over time since starting in 1987 when the Courage Leagues were formed creating a league pyramid comprising more than 1000 clubs playing in 108 leagues, each with promotion and relegation.
The structure is still one of promotion and relegation and the Premier League contains 12 clubs with the bottom side facing relegation to Division 1. The clubs in the league are all professional and subject to salary caps. A few of the Division 1 clubs are also fully professional, but most are semi. Clubs below this level will field sides containing a mixture of one or two salaried players and the majority on some form of playing or win bonus. below Division 3 the majority of clubs cannot afford to pay players. In all instances below the Aviva Premiership gate receipts and product sales will not cover costs and as with some of the big clubs in the top division sponsors or clubs owners foot the bill.
Debate still rages over the merits of promotion and relegation and at this time the Premier and French Top 14 are the only two major leagues which still have this challenge for the clubs. The Magners Celtic league and Super 14 do not have promotion and relegation. Whichever format you prefer the number of spectators attending professional rugby wherever it is in the world continues to grow as does the television audience.