Opinion: Where are the great personalities in Super League and how do we sell them?

SIMON GREENWOOD-HAIGH is a marketing specialist and a Rugby League supporter.

SPORT is littered with engaging personalities that transcend the field , arena or track and act as fantastic distinctive assets for their respective sports and clubs.

Team sports tend to have them in abundance and the most mature sports, from a business point of view, use those assets for the betterment of the whole.

Individual and less mature sports tend to lag behind a little. But when a great does come along  they quickly become the franchise player. For example, has athletics been the same since Usain Bolt retired?

I firmly believe that Rugby League has had the potential to create some fantastic personalities in my lifetime, but it never quite developed enough. I’d love to have seen some WWE style interviews between Barrie McDermott and Terry O’Connor leading up to a Rhinos v Warriors game, bringing some real gladiatorial rivalry to an already epic game.

Since I wrote my last article three weeks ago, I’ve been doing some thinking. We’re all in agreement that our product, domestic Rugby League, is absolutely brilliant. But there’s a big gap between the potential and what it’s currently achieving. So we need to establish what will make the difference and propel domestic Rugby League into a place where it can fulfil its potential. 

It’s very easy to point out flaws but not so easy to create the plan to get us there. It’s a common misconception that we cannot achieve what other sports do without having a huge influx of cash.

So, the pivotal question is how to recruit more heartland fans to generate more sustainable revenues.

The answer is by using existing assets.

If we take the Awareness – Interest – Trial – Repeat model for creating long term fans, then building on our distinctive assets helps with both Awareness and Interest, which will get us to the place we really want to be: Trial. Why do we think Trial is key? Because once you experience Rugby League at its best, you’ll keep coming back again and again. 

Some clubs have some very obvious distinctive assets; think the Saints’ V or Leigh’s genius move to leopard print.

However, the biggest and most under-utilised assets in our sport are the players and coaches.

You must admit that the drama and theatre created in other sports make them far more engaging and entertaining.

Who would have thought that a 16-year-old darts player from Warrington would have everyone glued to the PDC final? Or a Netflix documentary would get me mildly interested in the dullest sport invented: Formula 1?

We already have fantastic assets, so the real question is how do we use PR to amplify them and create Awareness and Interest?

Let’s be realistic, though; it’s the players’ and coaches’ responsibilities to be the best they can be at their craft not be thinking about their ‘brand’.

In my opinion the burden lies in two areas: the club and the press. We should be able to build compelling player and coach brands with intense rivalries and theatre between clubs. Unfortunately, I can’t recall many great Rugby League personalities in the UK game in my lifetime.

There’s definitely been the potential to create ‘franchise players’ but it was never quite realised. Unfortunately, the biggest narratives I can remember have mostly been damaging to the individuals involved and the sport.

What I’d love to see is an improvement in the quality of player and coach support so they can build a following that will, in turn, bring the entertainment factor and the crowds.

I’d love to think that the UK game could have made Sam Burgess into the personality he became. Or that we could have more moments like that great Jake Mamo interview that oozed personality in 2021. Imagine the hype that Paddy the Baddie brings to UFC translated to Hull FC vs Hull KR or the great VAR debates causing headlines for a technology that we’ve owned for years now.

If you sense a frustration in my writing it’s because there is one, but only because we can touch greatness with our incredible sport.

We just need to reach for it.