It was perhaps the quote most – albeit not all – rugby league fans wanted to hear.
Ever since it became apparent the RFL had held preliminary meetings with sports promoter extraordinaire Eddie Hearn, the question was clear: would Hearn fancy a stab at reviving rugby league’s fortunes?
The answer? “We can definitely help.”
It will have been music to the ears of plenty of fans, who believe Hearn is the answer. Time will tell whether he is or not, of course – but for now, is it perhaps worth working out where best to apply the Matchroom sparkle in our game?
Talk of a full takeover of the sport is irrelevant: Hearn himself admitted this week that something on that scale would be unlikely. The man himself admitted promoting standalone events could be another option – but to me, giving him something like Magic Weekend – a two-day event that happens once a year – just isn’t enough.
So we need something sat somewhere in the middle. Something of importance, which lasts for a good few months, but it isn’t quite on the scale where the clubs would need to seriously consider whether it was worth giving up.
The answer? The sport’s most prestigious competition, the Challenge Cup.
The Saturday afternoon at Wembley in August for the final is still undoubtedly one of the best moments in the British sporting calendar. It is an occasion and an event which transcends rugby league in terms of its popularity; it has the mainstream appeal few other events and matches have.
So this is already a tick in the box for Hearn and Matchroom, who will have a solid foundation and platform from which to build from. They’re not having to do all the groundwork; quite a lot of people in this country are aware of the Challenge Cup final.
But there is little doubting that, in recent years at least, the competition has lost a little bit of its sparkle. Does it need to be put back to earlier in the year? Do we need to find a way to add some oomph to the earlier rounds in the run-up to the final? Are those rounds too far – or too close – apart?
In terms of the final at least – which will, and must, stay at Wembley – there’s no reason the RFL can’t broker a deal with Hearn which will get him almost immediately interested. Let’s be abundantly clear here; while Hearn’s interest in reviving the sport is genuine, it has to be worth his while financially.
Last year’s final pulled in just under 70,000 spectators. That left around 20,000 empty – but what about this for a scenario? The RFL take the profit and ticket sales from the first 65,000-70,000 seats sold: and then anything on top of that, Hearn and Matchroom pocket. Completely. In its entirety.
That way, the sport isn’t losing any money – but what they are getting is a potentially sold-out Wembley Stadium, which makes the cup and rugby league look like a seriously big deal. Imagine getting to a position where we could lock the doors of Wembley and actually have to turn people away? It’s a pipedream right now, but with Matchroom’s track record of selling major venues out, who knows how far they could take the cup.
Matchroom could introduce a curtain-raiser. They could add serious razzle-dazzle to the earlier rounds. They could make the semi-finals a double-header at a major venue in the north. They could help negotiate a stronger (not to say that the current one isn’t strong) broadcasting deal. Essentially, the sky is the limit with a competition that could just fit Hearn and Matchroom’s remit when it comes to helping rugby league.
There are a whole host of avenues we can go down if a working relationship between the RFL and Matchroom is drawn up. One of the best, though, would be giving them the keys to the Challenge Cup and asking them to work their magic.
I’m sure we’d be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.