I genuinely think that rugby league should aim for two league systems, and that Super League and the RFL should attempt to pull the Championship closer to the standard of Super League both on and off the field. This would create a larger gap between the Championship and Championship One, but I think it would be better for the game as a whole. The Championship should rightfully be its own distinctive competition, with competitive matches, fully professional players, modern stadia and goals that are worth achieving. The transition from National League One to Championship was much needed, however it is not enough as I feel that a complete overhaul, a 1995 Super League style revolution is what is needed.
Clubs like Leigh, Batley, Barrow, Whitehaven, Keighley and Featherstone Rovers are responsible for getting rugby league to where it is today Ė the fourth biggest sport in a nation of 60 million people Ė that surely should never be forgotten. They ooze heritage, history and most importantly a community spirit. It saddens me a little to think that in a way it feels like the Super League clubs who did ďmake itĒ have kind of forgotten the ones who need a little help in this modern era of big cities, rich backers and brand awareness. Its sad too that in regards to the Challenge Cup fans donít see the attraction of a smaller club attempting to put one over on a franchised club. A club that merely a few decades ago was an equal, but now one which seems to be playing a completely different ball game. But the thing which I think is most saddening is the way that these clubs, which I personally feel donít have a hope in hell, are still knocking on Super Leagueís door asking to come in. Widnes have a chance, but lets be realistic I donít see any of the other heartland teams ever being allowed entry. However I think the reason theyíre still doing this is because they are not happy with the league they are in, not because they realistically see Super League as an option.
This must be put right; otherwise globalisation will wreck these clubs, surrendering them to amateurism. Some might think I am being overly pessimistic, but look how quickly the gap has got in all sports in the last fifteen years; well the trend will certainly continue. When you can watch Manchester United on television, why bother travelling to see Stockport County? When you can watch Leeds Rhinos on television, why bother travelling to see Hunslet Hawks?
To dramatically improve a leagues status quickly, a television deal is needed. Just look at the football Championship in 2004 or of course Super League in 1995. Unfortunately in its current state the Championship will not get one. But rugby league has always been one for innovation; if they donít come to you, then you must come to them.
And this is where internet television comes into play, because I honestly think that the medium is now strong enough that it could be a key feature for a new-look Championship. But how would it workÖ
How would the concept be funded and what do fans get?
Firstly a yearly or monthly subscription service could be offered to all rugby league fans and in return they get access to a select number of live matches every week. They also get access to full matches of all the other games in the league as well as highlights packages. It would be a database system, so old matches would be left on there for viewing whenever, and downloads of matches can be offered for portable devices like iPod. Heck there could even be European Cup matches or AMNRL matches if there is market for them. Secondly video advertisements and banner advertisements would be used on the website to make more money. I think there are two options with this, firstly it can be a rugby league only website which I think could definitely generate a sustainable level of advertisement, or for maximum advertisement money rugby league could pool together with other sporting leagues in football, rugby union and cricket to create a video network featuring videos from various British (worldwide?) leagues which would obviously increase advertisement revenue. The only comparison I can make is BigPondTV which I have seen hosts videos of various Aussie sports and JustinTV which is a highly popular live streaming website, which is a bit like YouTube but live, however it does offer a lot of sport feeds from across the globe.
Can internet television really help sustain a whole league?
The general trend of internet television, videos, live streaming is going up at huge rates. I would not be shocked if by 2025 more people are watching tv programmes on their laptops then on the actual television. Here are some facts I foundÖ
- 47 million sport videos were watched online in the UK in January 2010, an increase of 47% from July 2009.
Worldwide time spend online on sports sites is up 34% from Feb 2009 to Feb 2010. It is estimated to rise by the same amount by Feb 2011.
U.S. Internet users viewed a record 14.3 billion online videos during December 2007, representing an increase of 13 percent versus the previous month.Ē
Internet advertisement revenue reached $6.1 bln in 2008, but by 2013 itís expected to reach $147 bln worldwide.
Will this not have an effect on attendences?
My idea is that cheaper monthly/yearly subscriptions would be offered to season tickets/members of the actual Championship clubs which would then enforce a live blackout of clubs home, and possibly away, matches. For example as a Halifax season ticket holder, buying a cheaper subscription through the club would mean that I will not be able to view live streams of Halifax matches but of course would be able to watch/download the match a day or two later. With this blackout in place (it is a concept used across the United States in NFL, MLB, NBA etc) I donít think attendances will fall.
Could this persuade a television broadcaster to buy rights?
I suppose it could. At the end of the day in this current situation no television broadcaster is going to look at the Championship matches on Sky, a network already full of Super League fans, and think yes this would be viable on our channel. Itís just not going to happen. If this turns out to be a success then there is no reason why a television network would not be more interested now that the new product is laid out in front of them as a success. They donít like taking risks remember!
How would the matches look?
This is the hardest question to answer, because itís all about predicting numbers and then budgeting. In the Premier League, Sky generally use 24 cameras, Super League I reckon is substantially less but Iíve seen FA Cup matches featuring amateur teams live on the BBC using just three or four cameras and it looked fine. Commentary can be done, interviews as well. HD and 3D? Obviously not. Half-time match reaction and chatÖ probably not.
How would a new Championship look?
I wanted to focus on the internet tv idea, which would be a key part of a new Championship, but obviously not all of it. The other parts deserve new threads of their own! Personally I would licence a ten team league with the strongest teams like Leigh, Halifax, Widnes definitely in there. Stadiums like Leigh Sporting Village deserve to be shown to all rugby league fans! Maybe cutting the Super League down to 12 would help. Maybe Toulouse would get French users involved. But yes this thread is mainly about the internet tv aspect.
I know some of you might see this as pie in the sky, but I really can see this idea being successful and really helping out Championship rugby. The medium is growing so fast, and I think the sport has such a dedicated fan base who will happily pay to watch a match whatever the league is. I think in 10 years time many sports will be online, so why not dive in first. It is obviously a gamble, good ideas always are!, but if it brings in money for Championship and provides fans with more entertainment then surely itís worth trying. Anyway whatcha think?!