Looking ahead to the new season with League Express editor Martyn Sadler
It’s like hearing the first cuckoo in spring.
When the fixtures for the new season are published, we know that the New Year is on the horizon and it gives us something to look forward to.
As you’ll see in this issue of League Express, the RFL has published the fixtures for the Betfred Championship and League 1 and it’s great to be able to pore through them with a sense of anticipation.
This year it’s particularly interesting to look for those fixtures that will feature on Premier Sports’ coverage of the Championship on Monday nights.
The fixtures they will cover have been listed for the first twelve rounds of the competition, from Monday 31st January to Monday 23rd May.
The matches have been evenly distributed so that twelve different clubs will host those games, with no club therefore having more than one televised home games. I assume that is because the clubs probably believe they will suffer reduced attendances on Monday nights and they don’t want to do that too often.
Two clubs won’t host any Monday night matches at all. They are London Broncos and Workington Town. And it’s interesting to see that the Broncos are the only club that won’t feature in any of the TV coverage over those first twelve rounds. It appears that the only way the Broncos are likely to get on the box is if they perform strongly in the first twelve rounds and force their way onto the TV coverage.
As far as away teams are concerned, Leigh and Widnes will feature in three matches each, while Featherstone will have two away games featured. Barrow, Bradford, Workington and York will have one each. But the fans of seven Championship clubs – Batley, Dewsbury, Halifax, London, Newcastle, Sheffield and Whitehaven – will not have to worry about travelling anywhere on Monday nights.
Before I saw the TV matches, I imagined that Premier Sports would aim to broadcast derby matches to try to ensure that stadiums were as full as possible.
But that hasn’t happened, by and large. Only three games could reasonably be described as derbies – the opening fixture between York and Featherstone, the Cumbrian clash between Whitehaven and Workington and the Round 9 game between Bradford and Featherstone.
All the other nine matches will involve some lengthy journeys for the away team’s supporters, with Widnes having drawn the short straw, with trips to Newcastle, Sheffield and Dewsbury.
Premier Sports worked closely with the RFL in selecting the games they will cover and I’m looking forward with relish to watching all those games.
Wheelchair Rugby League’s shining example
How good were the Wheelchair Rugby League matches last Wednesday and Saturday between England and France?
And how smart was it to play those games during the close-season of the professional game?
Earlier in the year I would have struggled to find the time to watch those games, but in November it’s much, much easier.
And what a skilful game Wheelchair Rugby League is!
It was great to see a capacity crowd for both matches in Kent, with the supporters clearly enjoying themselves and appreciating the quality of rugby they were watching.
And that was surely true of the TV audience, with some great commentary by Mark Wilson, aided by Kyle Amor last Wednesday and Andrew Henderson on Saturday.
The two games were on the BBC red button, so the TV audiences will have been limited. But I suspect that the two games put down a great marker for the World Cup next year.
I hope that Rugby League fans everywhere will be looking forward to this version of Rugby League with as much relish as I am.
NFTs and Rugby League
I would be surprised if most Rugby League supporters were familiar with the intricacies of non-fungible tokens, which are digital investments, often works of art, that can be traded online.
Warrington Wolves are perhaps the most innovative club in Rugby League when it comes to finding new ways to promote itself. And last week the club revealed that it has created some NFTs involving its marquee player George Williams that are available for supporters, or any other investors, to purchase.
So, how much could a cluster of pixels possibly be worth?
In fact, why should it be worth anything at all?
The explosion of NFTs and their accompanying marketplaces have left many baffled, incredulous, and deeply sceptical, especially if we are of a certain age and have a conventional view of what we are likely to invest in.
But there is a logic to how and when NFTs create value, which they do by creating a system of verifiable digital ownership. In that sense NFTs fundamentally changed the market for digital assets, creating the possibility for new types of transactions.
But if NFTs are going to have any significant value, they must leverage a community of users, such as Rugby League supporters. But they must generate confidence that they can continue to maintain their value and survive market swings, while being capable of being added to.
For anyone who is sceptical, it’s worth pointing out that in March 2021, a work of art called ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ sold for $69 million at Christie’s Auction House. The piece was sold as a non-fungible token as an electronic record corresponding to an image that lives entirely in the digital world.
Put differently, someone paid almost $70 million for a picture on the internet.
So the one thing we can’t do is scoff at Warrington’s move into this particular marketplace.
I’ll watch this story unfold with great interest.
Who would have imagined this a few years ago?
But then, who would have imagined Wheelchair Rugby League a few years ago?
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.