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Can IMG make Rugby League into a more successful sport?


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To be pedantic, the majority of Super League games (4/6) were won this weekend by the team lower in the table. Toulouse faced a large points gap with defeat but beat Wakefield in a close game and have opened up the battle for survival, Salford beat Leeds on Rohan Smith’s first game in chance, a resurgent Cas demolished a free-falling KR side and Huddersfield beat Wigan in a dress rehearsal for the cup. Even one of the remaining two games saw Hull the better side for the first half against the champions, Saints. 

Maybe the article was written long before the results this weekend but I think that particular line is a bit of a disservice to the competition here. I think some are definitely guilty of holding the NRL up as something it’s not. Only two Grand Finals in the last ten years have not included at least one of Melbourne, Penrith or Sydney Roosters and in recent weeks Melbourne had accumulated 162 points in three consecutive games, conceding 18, if Saints had done similar here the consensus would not be positive. That’s not rare either, the gaps between the haves and have nots of NRL is as large as I can remember it and blow outs were as common, if not more regular than Super League last year. 

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Interesting observations Martyn. I think you're half right in what you say about structures, in that we need a Superleague that's more deeply competitive and consistently so. But whether that's 10, 12 or 14 or whatever number is less important than the competitive balance. 10 teams that have chance of beating each other on 'Any Given Sunday' (ok, Friday nights) would be better than 14 with just two more relegation scrappers. 

I think what you say about subscription sales gets to the crux of the "vision" question: what are we trying to create a more competitive Superleague for? 

Do we still basically want it to be a "my local team" league, where 3 or 4 more stronger teams means more interest in those areas? 

Or do we want a more competitive, better presented Superleague to be a battering ram for selling Superleague much more widely - domestically and internationally - as an elite sporting competition. And where the actual location of the teams is less important to the product they provide. 

The latter vision is much harder to achieve, indeed I wonder if it's even possible without a thriving international game alongside it. But it's certainly the vision with the much bigger upside. 

I expect we'll hear soon from IMG and the JV about what their vision for 12 years time is. 

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5 hours ago, Jughead said:

To be pedantic, the majority of Super League games (4/6) were won this weekend by the team lower in the table. Toulouse faced a large points gap with defeat but beat Wakefield in a close game and have opened up the battle for survival, Salford beat Leeds on Rohan Smith’s first game in chance, a resurgent Cas demolished a free-falling KR side and Huddersfield beat Wigan in a dress rehearsal for the cup. Even one of the remaining two games saw Hull the better side for the first half against the champions, Saints. 

You are being pedantic but also quite correct. The weekend just gone was good for both competitions in that regard.

5 hours ago, Jughead said:

Maybe the article was written long before the results this weekend but I think that particular line is a bit of a disservice to the competition here. I think some are definitely guilty of holding the NRL up as something it’s not. Only two Grand Finals in the last ten years have not included at least one of Melbourne, Penrith or Sydney Roosters and in recent weeks Melbourne had accumulated 162 points in three consecutive games, conceding 18, if Saints had done similar here the consensus would not be positive. That’s not rare either, the gaps between the haves and have nots of NRL is as large as I can remember it and blow outs were as common, if not more regular than Super League last year. 

Again, you're correct in what you say.

But that doesn't invalidate the wider point that our competition throws up only a very limited range of Grand Final winners - three in the last ten years - and that we ideally need more competition to broaden the interest in the game.

In contrast, the NRL has had six clubs winning their Grand Final in the last ten years, which coincidentally is the same for their great rivals, the AFL.

The NFL has had eight different winners of the last ten Superbowls.

Blowouts were common in the NRL last year, but they are far less frequent this season.

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4 hours ago, Toby Chopra said:

I expect we'll hear soon from IMG and the JV about what their vision for 12 years time is. 

We'll be putting the interview with Matt Dwyer on our website on Wednesday at 11.55.

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I speak as someone who loves British rugby league but doesn’t support a club. What I enjoy is skill and good players playing good rugby.

For me, it’s all about the players. Better players make for a better comp.

I think we probably can have a truly competitive Super League but, whatever the structure, it needs all clubs to spend full salary cap (with marquees) and for the salary cap to be policed properly. 

If a club can’t afford to spend full cap, they shouldn’t be in it. If that means licensing, so be it.

I should add that all Super League should also have modern facilities but even Wakefield are addressing that now so it’s not such a vital issue. 

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4 hours ago, Man of Kent said:

I speak as someone who loves British rugby league but doesn’t support a club. What I enjoy is skill and good players playing good rugby.

For me, it’s all about the players. Better players make for a better comp.

I think we probably can have a truly competitive Super League but, whatever the structure, it needs all clubs to spend full salary cap (with marquees) and for the salary cap to be policed properly. 

If a club can’t afford to spend full cap, they shouldn’t be in it. If that means licensing, so be it.

I should add that all Super League should also have modern facilities but even Wakefield are addressing that now so it’s not such a vital issue. 

No, you just enjoy roaming Internet forums endlessly promoting madcap schemes that benefit the football team you support but that people with more experience and - get this! - a RL team they actually support, tell you will destroy said rugby league club.

You've gone a bit quiet on the London Broncos threads, eh Chief?

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"Just as we had been Cathars, we were treizistes, men apart."

Jean Roque, Calendrier-revue du Racing-Club Albigeois, 1958-1959

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2 hours ago, nadera78 said:

No, you just enjoy roaming Internet forums endlessly promoting madcap schemes that benefit the football team you support but that people with more experience and - get this! - a RL team they actually support, tell you will destroy said rugby league club.

You've gone a bit quiet on the London Broncos threads, eh Chief?

Look. You have to properly love British rugby league in order to gleefully support the destruction of one of its teams so that your bankrupt football club can get an extra 200k a year.

It's beautiful in its way.

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Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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2 hours ago, nadera78 said:

No, you just enjoy roaming Internet forums endlessly promoting madcap schemes that benefit the football team you support but that people with more experience and - get this! - a RL team they actually support, tell you will destroy said rugby league club.

You've gone a bit quiet on the London Broncos threads, eh Chief?

 

12 minutes ago, gingerjon said:

Look. You have to properly love British rugby league in order to gleefully support the destruction of one of its teams so that your bankrupt football club can get an extra 200k a year.

It's beautiful in its way.

IMG might offer the Broncos with their 10-year agreement at the fabulous Plough Lane a path to redemption 😁

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7 minutes ago, Man of Kent said:

 

IMG might offer the Broncos with their 10-year agreement at the fabulous Plough Lane a path to redemption 😁

The move killed off the club. I could do without your jokes.

Chief.

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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2 minutes ago, Man of Kent said:

Bless. 

Yes.

Your love for the game shines through.

Chief.

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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28 minutes ago, gingerjon said:

Yes.

Your love for the game shines through.

Chief.

Let’s not turn Martyn’s nice thread personal, chief.

Let’s see what IMG come up with. They may see London as of strategic importance. 

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9 hours ago, Martyn Sadler said:

You are being pedantic but also quite correct. The weekend just gone was good for both competitions in that regard.

Again, you're correct in what you say.

But that doesn't invalidate the wider point that our competition throws up only a very limited range of Grand Final winners - three in the last ten years - and that we ideally need more competition to broaden the interest in the game.

In contrast, the NRL has had six clubs winning their Grand Final in the last ten years, which coincidentally is the same for their great rivals, the AFL.

The NFL has had eight different winners of the last ten Superbowls.

Blowouts were common in the NRL last year, but they are far less frequent this season.

I do think the Grand Final winners in SL is a little bit of a quirk tbh, rather than anything structurally problematic. 

We've seen many teams make the Grand Finals:

Wigan, Leeds, Saints, Wire, Hull, Catalans, Salford (and of course Bradford) - over half of the current comp has made the GF. 

In the Cup:

Wigan, Leeds, Saints, Wire, Hull, Catalans, Hull KR, Cas, Salford, Hudds - that's all clubs apart from Toulouse and Wakey. 

The actual match results haven't gone the way that would be kind statistically in the Grand Final in particular, but the likes of Catalans and Wire in particular have been very close, playing epic Grand Finals which could have gone either way. It is not systemic issues that prevented them winning those games, just Rugby games. 

Of course we have seen dominance of certain clubs, but I think we will always have some clubs stronger than others, and I'm not sure that is a key metric. 

I'm enjoying F1 as a sport at the moment, the stories have been fascinating over the last couple of years, but there are loads of drivers and teams making up the numbers. Same in Premier League football. 

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9 hours ago, Martyn Sadler said:

But that doesn't invalidate the wider point that our competition throws up only a very limited range of Grand Final winners - three in the last ten years - and that we ideally need more competition to broaden the interest in the game.

In contrast, the NRL has had six clubs winning their Grand Final in the last ten years, which coincidentally is the same for their great rivals, the AFL. The NFL has had eight different winners of the last ten Superbowls.

The NRL and the AFL and the NFL are all much bigger and richer sports than the regional M62.

Take that into account and the successes of Leeds, Hull, Saints, Bradford, Warrington and Wigan during the Superleague age is pretty good indeed.  

Winning the RL Challenge cup is a big prize as well and Catalans have won that. So we have "broadened the competition as I'd say half the superleague are capable of, and have won, major trophies.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Dave T said:

I'm enjoying F1 as a sport at the moment, the stories have been fascinating over the last couple of years, but there are loads of drivers and teams making up the numbers. Same in Premier League football. 

"Stories" is such an important word. If IMG help us to significantly improve the telling of our stories to a wider audience, it could be the most important part of the deal. None of the other goals can be reached without it. 

EDIT: And to agree with the poster above, a big focus of those stories should be the players. People anywhere can connect with individuals' characters and stories, both sporting and off the pitch. Much easier to connect with than making it about small northern towns, if I'm honest. 

Nobody in the UK cares about Tampa Bay or Green Bay, but Brady and Rogers' stories over the last couple of years are what the NFL has been built on. 

And as an example from Superleague, when Jackson Hastings was at Salford, the way he connected with people and told his story of redemption was box office. The fact it happened at Salford was kinda secondary. 

Jack Welby in the grand final cut through too, yes the match winning moment, but this bright eyed teen doing it too. 

We need that sort of storytelling to be all day, everyday. 

Edited by Toby Chopra
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8 minutes ago, steve oates said:

The NRL and the AFL and the NFL are all much bigger and richer sports than the regional M62.

Take that into account and the successes of Leeds, Hull, Saints, Bradford, Warrington and Wigan during the Superleague age is pretty good indeed.  

Winning the RL Challenge cup is a big prize as well and Catalans have won that. So we have "broadened the competition as I'd say half the superleague are capable of, and have won, major trophies.

The Challenge Cup also has the added factor of being the most watched game of live club RL in the UK each year - the variety of the Cup Final is right there in front of the TV viewers and sponsors - has that been a great thing? Or is it not that big an issue?

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3 minutes ago, Toby Chopra said:

"Stories" is such an important word. If IMG help us to significantly improve the telling of our stories to a wider audience, it could be the most important part of the deal. None of the other goals can be reached without it. 

Agreed - it's why I find it frustrating when people moan about clubs putting themselves above the parapet and being a little provocative in their promotions.

That last F1 race last year with the rivalry between Red Bull and Mercedes was absolute gold. Unbelievably dramatic stuff. I was gripped and I say that as somebody who has at best a moderate interest in motor racing.

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Martyn good bit of journalism there.

I concur with the notion that a diversity of success would be beneficial to the whole of the professional game. Unluckily that premise could have been vindicated (or not) had the momentum of SRD's recent dual cup final successes had not been disrupted by COVID-19. Same so if KR had managed to get to this year's Challenge Cup final.

I am torn on how this could be achieved. A very common thread on here is that it is the responsibility of those "tier 2" clubs like KR or Cas to up their game.

People like me contend that the system is unintentionally rigged in such a way that it ensures the success of a few. An obvious example is the dominance of a few Academies and the privileges that affords clubs. Particularly how the Salary Cap can be worked. 

Where I am split is it right to overtly support "tier 2" clubs against the likes of Wigan et al, or do we need to enforce further equality to provide a balance. Neither seems fair. So maybe the solution could be greater collective action in terms of marketing, ticketing (and promotions), player development and financing. One league than 12 separate clubs. A continent than individual islands.

I see this having the huge problem that it would need an over arching strong central organization to manage this. I am (coughs) unsure if the current RFL  is that. But I argue it is badly needed.

Somehow I can imagine IMG are going to wish to increase the international game. Again COVID 19 robbed us of the Australia Tests. It is obvious in almost every criteria that Internationals are needed. Revenue, exposure, player personalities, attendance, expansion and so on.

Also I suppose IMG will be examining how to revive RL in London and how to integrate the British and French game. 

I hope that all aspects of the game are considered from SL to the community game and how all can support each other. 

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19 hours ago, Martyn Sadler said:

Having spoken to Matt Dwyer of IMG, I give my initial thoughts on whether the appointment of IMG will be successful in raising the profile of the game.

https://www.totalrl.com/talking-rugby-league-can-img-make-the-sport-successful/

To answer your question, Martyn, we first need to know your definition of 'successful'.

I confess to being a highly skilled, nit-picking pedant on occasions, but, to be fair to myself, I don't think this is one of them.

Two thoughts prompt me to seek such a definition.  First, all the conversation so far has been about the top professional flight and those of us who watch the sport.  However, could we not measure success just as much in terms of those who play?  Second, I make that first point because of how modern elite level soccer is often deemed to demonstrate that the sport is 'successful'.  And yet, at the more humble level of those playing for fun, but in organised teams and competitions, on a Saturday or Sunday, I suspect numbers have fallen.  That certainly seems to be true of the local Salisbury league.

Just a thought!

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7 minutes ago, Wiltshire Warrior Dragon said:

To answer your question, Martyn, we first need to know your definition of 'successful'.

I confess to being a highly skilled, nit-picking pedant on occasions, but, to be fair to myself, I don't think this is one of them.

Two thoughts prompt me to seek such a definition.  First, all the conversation so far has been about the top professional flight and those of us who watch the sport.  However, could we not measure success just as much in terms of those who play?  Second, I make that first point because of how modern elite level soccer is often deemed to demonstrate that the sport is 'successful'.  And yet, at the more humble level of those playing for fun, but in organised teams and competitions, on a Saturday or Sunday, I suspect numbers have fallen.  That certainly seems to be true of the local Salisbury league.

Just a thought!

I think this is a commercial deal isn't it? That would suggest increasing revenues is one of the key drivers. If increasing and improving grassroots is deemed crucial to that, then yes, but I'm not sure IMG will be focusing too much on that area. 

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8 minutes ago, Wiltshire Warrior Dragon said:

To answer your question, Martyn, we first need to know your definition of 'successful'.

I confess to being a highly skilled, nit-picking pedant on occasions, but, to be fair to myself, I don't think this is one of them.

Two thoughts prompt me to seek such a definition.  First, all the conversation so far has been about the top professional flight and those of us who watch the sport.  However, could we not measure success just as much in terms of those who play?  Second, I make that first point because of how modern elite level soccer is often deemed to demonstrate that the sport is 'successful'.  And yet, at the more humble level of those playing for fun, but in organised teams and competitions, on a Saturday or Sunday, I suspect numbers have fallen.  That certainly seems to be true of the local Salisbury league.

Just a thought!

IMG's remit is to consider the whole game, from top to bottom, internationals to the community game in its various guises.

I suppose you might say that everything affects everything else.

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2 hours ago, Toby Chopra said:

"Stories" is such an important word. If IMG help us to significantly improve the telling of our stories to a wider audience, it could be the most important part of the deal. None of the other goals can be reached without it. 

EDIT: And to agree with the poster above, a big focus of those stories should be the players. People anywhere can connect with individuals' characters and stories, both sporting and off the pitch. Much easier to connect with than making it about small northern towns, if I'm honest. 

Nobody in the UK cares about Tampa Bay or Green Bay, but Brady and Rogers' stories over the last couple of years are what the NFL has been built on. 

And as an example from Superleague, when Jackson Hastings was at Salford, the way he connected with people and told his story of redemption was box office. The fact it happened at Salford was kinda secondary. 

Jack Welby in the grand final cut through too, yes the match winning moment, but this bright eyed teen doing it too. 

We need that sort of storytelling to be all day, everyday. 

Storytelling is massive. I’m a massive believer that despite the negativity and moaning from some, that Super League and the game as a whole has plenty of stories.

We’ve got a team aiming for a fourth consecutive title, we’ve had six different league leaders in the past ten seasons, seven different Grand finalists in the past ten seasons, ten of the eleven current elite clubs as Challenge Cup finalists in the last eight seasons, we’ll have a sixth consecutive different winner of the Cup next weekend and that’s without looking at the race for the play-offs and league leaders shield. 

What we lack in journalists, commentary teams and club employees to tell those stories and make them exciting and engaging. I’ve no interest in sitting and watching Formula 1 for hours on end on a Sunday but the Netflix programme (from the couple I have seen) is really good and does exactly that. 

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