Stuart Glendinning (pictured) explains the rationale behind ‘Rugby League Uncovered’, the new supporters’ organisation he has been instrumental in setting up.
Research by Two Circles in 2018 revealed that Rugby League is the fifth most popular sport in the UK ranked by paying spectators, behind (in order) football, horse racing, rugby union and cricket.
But does Rugby League receive the media coverage commensurate with being the fifth most popular spectator sport?
Jonathan Liew, Senior Sportswriter at the Guardian, says in a recent podcast that ‘Rugby League is probably the seventh or eighth most popular sport in the UK’.
So does Rugby League have the media profile of the seventh or eighth most popular sport?
It’s pure speculation, but I’d guess Rugby League gets media coverage equivalent to being between the 15th and 20th most popular sport.
Does this matter?
Yes! The game doesn’t attract the big-name sponsors, which are needed and which in itself hampers media coverage because of the lack of advertising spend. Games are attended by the faithful, but Rugby League fails to attract a different audience.
This year we have the Rugby League World Cup. It will be the biggest Rugby League event ever. But, fingers crossed that full attendances are permitted by October after the success of the Covid vaccines, will the games be played in packed stadiums or half-full stadiums?
To achieve full stadiums we need a new audience to attend . . . and they will . . . if they know about the event and understand how exciting it will be.
To ‘turn the head’ of a non-Rugby League fan, internationals and World Cups offer cut-through like nothing else.
Accordingly, Rugby League fans face a conundrum. Do we wait for the media to fail us (again)? Or do we get our complaints in first and put the sports editors on notice that we expect the coverage the event deserves?
I was pondering getting a letter off to the Daily Telegraph in September last year to stress the importance of the RLWC and notify them that this will be of interest to all their readers across the UK.
I then noticed that within seven days of priority tickets going on sale, most of the professional clubs had not (NOT!) notified their combined 2.4m Facebook/Twitter followers.
When I say most, I mean virtually all of them . . . amazingly including most of the teams hosting games!
The ability of those in this sport to self-inflict wounds never ceases to amaze. The under-funding in our sport causes the talented to go elsewhere and leaves the sport with a residue of almost incompetent administration (except at the most senior levels – so don’t interpret this as yet another dig at Rimmer – I actually think he’s doing a good job in difficult circumstances).
Anyhow, I thought to myself, ‘If the clubs can’t be arsed to support the RLWC, then why should I?’
However, my latent deep suspicion that the London-based media would ignore the RLWC sparked into furious indignation on the 3rd January, when the Sunday Times ran an article on the ‘top 20 sporting events in the UK in 2021’ and failed to mention the RLWC!
I wrote to complain and I know many others did. Nick Greenslade, the sports editor of The Times and Sunday Times, apologised. It was a ‘cock-up’, he said.
But there you go . . . out of sight, out of mind . . . the six words that sum up Rugby League’s ongoing media nightmare.
The plus side of this (completely predictable) little episode?
The formation of Rugby League Uncovered, a group that now numbers over 50 Rugby League fans that are acting together and coordinating emails, letters and phone calls to ‘persons of influence’.
We’d love you to join us. We want to make sure that, between now and the start of the RLWC, each sports editor at a major newspaper receives at least one hundred emails or letters making polite, respectful, well articulated arguments as to why the event should have extensive build-up, match reports, tabs on the digital home pages, plenty of budget for freelance coverage and that their senior reporters should attend plenty of games. Let’s make it ‘bloody-well in sight, in your ******* mind’.
Rugby League Uncovered has already taken over 50 ‘actions’.
We share a database of persons of influence with all our participants and measure results.
To join, you must love Rugby League, and be willing to send a few emails or letters to some of the very small number of people that will determine how much coverage the RLWC receives.
Email UncoveredRugby@gmail.com to find out more.
There is a Facebook page and Twitter account @UncoveredRugby.
C’mon, by working together we can make a difference!
Stuart Glendinning is Chairman of Rugby League Uncovered
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