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Today, I came across a copy of the 1948-49 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, Bradford Northern v Halifax, Wembley programme.

Amongst the programme notes: "Rugby League in the South - Efforts are being made to introduce the game of Rugby League Football into the London area......"

They go on to talk about the introduction of a competitive amateur competition for the South (a bit like the newly formed Southern Conference Amateur Rugby League?)

On the other hand, we have 40 years of London (now Broncos), plus Catalans, Toulouse, Toronto, maybe Ottawa and New York.

And it made me wonder..... have we been here before? What really is the future of RL? Will it stay the same as it is now, will it go truly national, will it go international with champions league style glamour and coverage? Will Superleague & RFL pull together or pull apart ?

I have no answers, only questions, so I thought I should float this question to a wider and more experienced readership.

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40 years of London, existance maybe, fully supported and integrated by the RFL and other clubs with plans in place to build from the bottom up, nope. starting a club even in the 80s was going to be a tough ask, there simply wasn't the underlying support from RFL and grass roots. Now it's even harder, opportunity for London came and went after their pinnacle getting to Wembley.

One thing is for sure, looking backwards to pit villages and the like is NOT the future of RL!

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One of the fantastic things about British sport is promotion and relegation, and the idea that anyone can reach the top flight without needing a franchise or being invited. Personally I think a closed shop SL would kill the game. 

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6 hours ago, Denton Rovers RLFC said:

...

One thing is for sure, looking backwards to pit villages and the like is NOT the future of RL!

I need to ask: which specific mining villages are you telling us have no place in the future of the sport? Please name them: I’m sure they will have the resilience to cope with your assessment. And which particular places are the future of RL: cotton towns, chemical manufacturers, pie baking towns, towns with glass works, suburbs of ports? A list would be useful.

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1 hour ago, Eddie said:

One of the fantastic things about British sport is promotion and relegation, and the idea that anyone can reach the top flight without needing a franchise or being invited. Personally I think a closed shop SL would kill the game. 

It was a disaster last time they did it.

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I have always said that we should move with the times, I reckon that the competition should be a champions league style format. I had this wrote down somewhere with specifics but essentially you have 4 leagues of eight teams, the top 4 from each side qualify for the SL title and the bottom 4 enter the Shield. Stage 2, the 16 teams that qualify are split into 2 leagues with 8 ( mirrored in the shield comp) with the top 4 making it through to a knockout quarter final based on position in their respective league,no second bites. 

The idea behind this is that the 32 teams each have something to play for and lower league sides get a chance to play against super League competition and maybe get a decent gate in doing  so.

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I think we’ll flit between structures, just like we have done for the past however many years.

The clubs voted on a new Super League structure around this time last year and now not even a season into the new structure, we now have people proposing a new Challenge Cup structure that will have a knock-on effect on the Super League structure, for example. If we were to go through that it would be about the fifth or sixth different structure in about 10-15 years and I just question how you can ever build anything as a club or even as a league or a game as a whole when every 3-4 years, you’re changing the complexion of the elite level of the game.

We’ve also had people wanting an up-lift from twelve teams in Super League to a fourteen or sixteen team league, we’ve seen people wanting conferences brought in, some want to go back to a “closed shop” Super League and others wanting all sorts of weird and wonderful changes to the game. 

No doubt we’ll change the structure again for the 2021 TV deal. Whether it’s right or wrong for the game, who knows, we never stick to anything long enough for it to be given a fair chance to show its worth. 

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What does the future hold.......... Possibly no TV deal and clubs going part time leaving the RFU funded with TV money to hoover up the big clubs in geographical areas they currently have virtually no presence in. 

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What does it hold, or what should it hold? Forgive the wall of text, but I'll answer the latter....

I honestly think that all of this discussion about structures, conferences, play-off systems etc is largely just trying to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. Because in truth, a lot of the supporters that this sport is going to have to try and attract in the future don't care about that sort of thing. What we need to do is actually understand what this sport is in the context of a modern media market. 

This might sound a bit "blue sky thinking" and all that, but hear me out. 

As a sport I think we're genuinely of the belief that the main, and in some cases the only, thing we have to sell is tickets - everything we do is about bums on seats. We have this mindset that any marketing that doesn't sell loads of tickets, or any marketing that doesn't convert people into avid fans that travel across the country to follow a team is a failure. So what we do is market to the same people time and time again, and then wonder why our crowds are going down and our average supporter age is going up. It's the wrong mentality, because its a mentality that excludes us from so much of the population and its a mentality that also leads to the quality of the product suffering because we have this idea that we can put 'bums on seats' in front of any old dross and just keep selling more and more of it (cough, loop fixtures, cough). 

What we sell, in essence, is "content" - a form of entertainment. That's what people really buy into, and that's what we sell. So the issue is how the sport monetises the access to that content. In many respects, we're no different to a magazine publisher, a music festival or a Netflix - we have something to offer, and we charge people to access it in whatever form it takes. 

Because we're actually not that bad at creating that content. OK, we've under-invested in that content for some time through a refusal to increase what we pay the talent, but in general we can come up with some amazing entertainment when we get it right. I will argue with anyone that, when its played at its best, there is no better sport. (Although the issue is that, in this country especially, we rarely see it at its best). 

But the sport is terrible at letting people access that content, because we focus too much on the tickets sold. If you don't live in a certain geographic area, it's incredibly hard to 'access' RL content. It's too much of a commitment to buy a ticket if you don't live in that certain area. Most of our TV presence is behind an expensive satellite TV paywall and younger audiences in particular are both less likely to go to a sporting event in person (if we're trying to reach a generation that has got acustomed to being able to stream whatever they want in less than five seconds, why would they commit to a live game in person?) and to take out a satelitte TV subscription - their media consumption is based around social media, YouTube and VOD. 

Those are all three areas where RL performs incredibly badly. With a couple of notable exceptions, our clubs are appalling at social media. We have club chairmen having public spats with fans and journalists, we have clubs using their social presence to post dreary content, clubs using their Twitter accounts to question the integrity of referees and players posting highly inappropriate stuff. Pretty much nobody is using YouTube effectively, so nobody is monitising that and as a sport, we're one of the last pro sports to properly utilise video-on-demand. OurLeague is good, but it doesn't reach beyond our bubble. 

The NRL gets this. It has focused heavily on reaching younger audiences that is was finding hard to reach, and it has been using digital in particular to do that. It has great content on social media, it is doing some good stuff on YouTube to promote its talent (something our fans and even players complain about) and its SVOD offering is very good in my experience.

You can dismiss all of that as "kids preferring their video games" and lament it, or you can realise that it's how, if the sport is going to survive, our future audiences consume their entertainment in 2019 and will probably continue to do so. Ticket sales, whilst important, are not the be all and end all. 

So what does the sport need to do? It needs to focus on getting itself in front of as many people as possible by any medium, whilst balancing the need to generate revenue. So there will still be a place for Sky, but there is also a place (and revenue to be generated) by properly investing in other methods of reaching an audience - decent content on YouTube for example.

If you do that and do it well, you create demand for more of that content and, where there is demand, there's money to be made. That might be through ticket sales, but it might also be from digital media impressions, TV viewership, SVOD subscriptions or commercial partnerships. If you're reaching people that advertisers historically find difficult to reach - your appeal to sponsors is a hell of a lot greater.

None of this is easy, but its not supposed to be. 

Edited by whatmichaelsays
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13 hours ago, Cerulean said:

I need to ask: which specific mining villages are you telling us have no place in the future of the sport? Please name them: I’m sure they will have the resilience to cope with your assessment. And which particular places are the future of RL: cotton towns, chemical manufacturers, pie baking towns, towns with glass works, suburbs of ports? A list would be useful.

I used it as a generic catch all term in reference to clubs with not enough population nor demographic to ever progress RL on a national/International stage.

HTH

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