It’s been a long drawn-out process, but I’m hearing that the negotiations for a new broadcast deal are coming to a climax.
I understand that Sky have made a final offer of a two-year contract worth around £25 million per year, which is a long way short of the £40 million per year they were paying until now.
I would guess that the Super League clubs will probably accept the offer, having few alternatives that they could realistically exploit.
And I suspect that the Sky executives probably recognise more than anyone else what a changing media environment they are operating in.
We have recently seen the decision by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sports organisation to move its boxing events away from Sky Sports in order to join forces with the international streaming company DAZN from the beginning of July, which will surely leave a massive gap in the Sky schedules on a significant number of Saturday evenings, while DAZN seems to be agreeing a number of deals with probably every sport you could think of other than Rugby League.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, given that Rugby League has the tremendously successful OurLeague App, which has the potential to raise substantial funds for the game and, to a significant extent, is already doing so.
If the Sky deal is agreed by Super League, we wait to see whether the Championship and League 1 will get anything out of it.
No doubt Super League, under the leadership of Ken Davy, will enter into good-faith negotiations with the RFL, but it’s hard to see how the clubs outside Super League will get much out of the deal.
The key thing, however, is that the non-Super League clubs shouldn’t be bound by the Super League deal, as they have been for the last eight years, which prevented them from entering into or even exploring the possibility of other deals elsewhere.
I suppose it was fairly inevitable that the big European football clubs would one day want to band together to create a form of Super League.
So the announcement a week ago wasn’t a massive surprise.
And neither was the reaction of the supporters of all clubs, including the six English clubs who were going to join the new competition, when they heard the news.
What surprised me was that the whole operation was handled so clumsily.
If the organisers of the Super League didn’t realise that there would be a tremendously negative reaction to the proposal, then they must have been remarkably stupid.
And they must also have been stupid to think there could be a European Super League competition without some of the biggest clubs in Europe, such as Bayern Munich and other German clubs, as well as the equivalent clubs from the Netherlands and other leading football nations.
It did remind me of the time 26 years ago when Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited swooped to create a new Rugby League competition, for a time effectively controlling the game in Australia and therefore the world.
The big difference between the two situations is that in 1995 the majority of Rugby League clubs were broke, or near to being broke, while the major football clubs in 2021 have access to funds that Rugby League could only dream of.
And unfortunately some things never change.
Rugby League is still chronically short of money, and has to watch every penny, while many other sports appear to have much less difficulty in that regard.
Having said that, our sport long ago learned to live within its means.
It may be frustrating, but at least we are still here.
The dangers of switching codes
Switching codes in either direction is a risky business.
If you’re a Rugby League player signing up to play union, you have to come to terms with an arcane set of rules that almost no one understands, even those union players who have played the game all their lives.
If you come the other way, you have to suddenly improve your aerobic capacity, as you will cover far more ground in 80 minutes compared the 15-a-side code.
In the case of Kyle Eastmond, no one can doubt his rugby ability, but, having been away for Rugby League for so long, it’s bound to take him longer to adjust to our game’s demands than many people might hope.
With the six again rule and the limited scrums and penalties in the game now, League is fast, whereas union, with its various set pieces and penalties is a slower game.
And there are the defensive demands of Rugby League to consider, which I thought Eastmond handled well on his debut, although I didn’t see his performance against Hull Kingston Rovers on Friday night.
Recently Danny Houghton made 86 tackles in the game against Warrington, which would be unimaginable for a union player.
In Australia, the Sydney Roosters are currently wanting to sign an All Black star TJ Perenara to play at hooker.
I was reading an article about Perenara that suggested that he is currently averaging about four to six tackles in every game. How could he adjust to having to make ten times that number?
I think we have to accept that the two codes of rugby are completely different sports and to transfer from one to the other in the modern era is a remarkably brave, or perhaps the word is foolhardy, thing to do.
Yearbook now available digitally
The Rugby League Yearbook 2020-21 now has a digital version that can be downloaded from the Pocketmags.com website for the very reasonable price of £9.99.
It means that if you want to attend a game with the information the book contains at your fingertips, you can read it on your tablet or mobile phone.
I’ll be interested to see how many people take advantage of this facility.
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.