In the last six weeks, Rugby League has been treated to one of the most thrilling conclusions to a season this writer can remember.
The culmination of the regular Championship season saw Bradford, Halifax, Featherstone and Batley battle it out for a spot in the top four of the Championship, with the latter two eventually prevailing.
But what an absolute travesty it is that, excluding the couple of thousand that turned up for the games, that not a single one of those games was featured on TV.
I had the pleasure of covering Bradford’s very narrow defeat to Leigh at LSV, along with their 19-18 victory over Barrow and then Halifax’s defeat to London on Sunday All three games were of the highest quality, with tension and drama around every corner. The two Bradford games in particular are up there as the most exciting I have witnessed all season.
But as a whole, the second-tier is neglected, especially when it comes to television coverage. Currently, the television rights belong to SKY Sports, but the only games they have broadcast this season were at the Summer Bash, with all six games shown over the weekend. SKY did also feature Batley’s Challenge Cup game with Featherstone, while all four Championship clubs that made the Qualifiers will also feature at least once on TV.
However, this still isn’t anywhere near enough coverage for a competition that is thriving under the Super 8s concept. Not only has the top four concept added excitement, but the quality of the teams has vastly improved. In particular, the competition’s top six teams are very solid sides that would give Super League sides a real run for their money, as proved when Halifax pushed Widnes all the way in the Challenge Cup.
This is a competition that has made fantastic progress in the past 18 months, and will continue to do so for the next few years. But for clubs to truly evolve on the field, financially and commercially, they need more exposure to a national audience, which would give all the clubs outside of Super League a massive opportunity to build their image.
With Thursday night Super League not popular among fans, now seems like the ideal time for SKY to make that slot the Championship’s own. Imagine the interest there would have been, with adequate promotion, if Featherstone’s ‘Half-a-million pound game’ victory had been on the tele. It would have sparked more interest than Hull KR against Leeds, that’s for sure.
The clubs would likely be happier given the effect Thursday nights have on attendances while Championship clubs would overall be happier with more exposure at the expense of a few hundred off the gate.
SKY don’t have a duty to promote the Championship, but perhaps for the first time ever, broadcasting games from the second-tier on a frequent basis could really aid their product.