Massive change needed in Super League, claims its former Creative Director

Super League’s former creative director Lee Hicken believes massive change is needed in the running and governance of the competition if its audience and profile is to grow in the future.

Hicken and his company, ‘The City Talking’, were appointed by Robert Elstone in 2019 to help market and promote Super League.

The Leeds-based agency was behind the Amazon series ‘We Play League’, the ‘Inside Super League’ TV show that aired on Sky Sports last year, and other marketing initiatives, but Hicken’s role with Super League finished in 2020 when Covid-19 hit.

The film director says he was not surprised that Elstone resigned from his position and feels the voting system for decisions at the top of Super League is flawed.

“When I read the news, I was not surprised,” Hicken admitted.

“I can understand it from Robert’s point of view. Sometimes situations and structures make progress impossible, no matter how good the intentions.

“The first word that comes to mind for me [about Elstone’s reign] would be ‘frustrating’. There was an opportunity for change that wasn’t taken.”

Asked if Elstone was doomed to fail from the beginning, Hicken replied: “I guess that depends on the original job specification. The clubs, the Super League executive, Super League staff, the fans, all probably thought that the split or breakaway meant different things.

“If the remit was to make big changes and lead us to a bright new future, that was impossible with the way everything was set up… the bottom line is that the voting system was flawed.

“Some clubs will vote for the good of the game or league, but many will vote for their own self-interest. This creates division, small-time and short-term thinking and forces the Super League executive to create strategies that have a chance of winning a vote across the clubs, rather than the right strategy for the game.

“If the structure stays the same, there is no point having a top team to lead the league, you may as well just appoint a few administrators to carry out the wishes of the clubs.”

According to Hicken, some progress was made by the competition but a number of factors, including the impact of the Coronavirus, presented road blocks.

“You always think you can do more or do better,” he said.

“But we produced some excellent work such as the season launches and the We Play League series. I think the rebrand with Nomad for the 2020 season was great and we were building new projects and relationships that would have grown through 2020.

“In some cases though, differences of opinions and budget restrictions meant we didn’t get to take things to the next level, which was a shame.

“I think Super League now has clearly made the choice to kind of shore up the current position and try to protect what they have rather than grow, expand, appeal to new audiences.

“So with that being said, they should just do what they had been doing previously and hope to ride out this next couple of years.”

In Hicken’s view, Super League requires massive change for crowds and interest to increase.

“Massive change – I really believe that even more than before I officially started to work with the organisation.

“But there needs to be a fundamental change in the structure of the organisation. Then if they can get that done, there needs to be a focus on talent (off the field).

“There needs to be the right people in the right positions both in the central organisation and at clubs, who are qualified and equipped to lead the change. But you could have the best CEO, the best marketing director, studios like The City Talking and Nomad involved, but if they are not empowered, there is no point.”

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.