The Garry Schofield Column: The long-term issue in Rugby League that IMG must solve

IMG are one of the biggest management companies around, with years of experience in many different areas, not just sport.

But I wonder if they’ve ever come across anything like Rugby League and its member clubs.

Hopefully they have, because if their twelve-year strategic partnership with the RFL and Super League Europe is to produce the desired effect – that is firstly saving a game which is skint, then helping it grow – they must tackle a situation that, as far as I can see, stretches right back to 1895 and is clearly holding us back.

I’m talking about the self-interest that is behind almost all the moves most of our clubs make. The constant bickering is doing us no favours whatsoever.

We’ve seen a further example of it recently, through that very public spat between Catalans and Huddersfield, with the Dragons saying they had become aware of reportedly negative comments made by Giants’ officials about French participation in Super League during a meeting with IMG.

This short-sightedness is getting in the way of badly-needed progress, and as I’ve written so many times, clubs must consider the overall game, right down to amateur level, not just themselves.

If they don’t start doing that, we’ll continue to struggle at a time when the knock-on effects of the pandemic on all businesses are making getting those improved sponsorship and broadcast deals ever harder to secure but ever more important.

That’s a big part of what IMG have been brought in to do, and it’s crucial clubs let them get on with it.

They have a representative, their Head of Sport Ed Mallaburn, on the new company RL Commercial, which has been created to get the ball rolling.

Some in Super League may moan about having to go to Perpignan to play the Dragons and, for this season at least, also to Toulouse.

But I smile to myself when I think back to the formation of Super League in the mid-nineties when, if the late Maurice Lindsay had got his way, those English clubs who remain in the top division would have been visiting Italy and Spain, and maybe a few other countries, as well as France.

It’s Super League Europe, after all, and the clue is in the name. Catalans and Toulouse have got there by merit and made significant contributions, and the fact that money is so tight across the board isn’t their fault.

Perhaps I’m getting a bit soft in my old age, but for once, I agree with Hull Chairman Adam Pearson, who said in last week’s League Express that while French involvement in Super League is expensive, it’s a price worth paying.

I love the history and heritage of our sport, and I certainly don’t want to throw any clubs under the bus. But, having said that, we must move with the times and adapt to a changing world.

Supporters are the lifeblood of any professional sport, because if there’s no interest, there’s no income. We must keep those we already have and attract new ones.

It’s not rocket science. The more eyeballs there are on matches, the more attractive Rugby League will be to sponsors and broadcasters. Building a strong game in France, and in other areas of the UK if possible and practical, can only be beneficial. 

I recall something about building stronger relationships with fans when the IMG partnership was first announced, and hopefully they will get out and about and canvass the opinions of supporters.

Initially, I’d like to see four public meetings set up – in Yorkshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Cumbria, that Rugby League stronghold which has so much potential but has sadly been left to wither.

I suspect supporters will provide a different perspective to clubs, and one in which IMG will be interested.

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