Whilst the last deal with Sky, negotiated by The RFL, has certainly brought in large sums of money for the Super League clubs, the finer details weren't really all in the best interests of the clubs, the game and the fans. The ability to change a fixture at less than a weeks notice is probably the stand out in that regard.
One of the main determining factors in Super League splitting from The RFL at the end of 2017 was self-determination over the next TV deal - the major source of income for most clubs. So, they have to get it right!
My understanding is the Super League board are looking to appoint an external party to help them weight up all the options and permutations. I think that nothing is off the table - from how many games are televised, to who televises them and beyond.
I don't know how strong the Super League's hand is going to be in these negotiations, but there are a few things I think they should be looking for:
- A minimum of two weeks notice for any game moved for TV coverage - this is a no brainer, we have to try and get a bit more notice for fans to plan arrangements and for clubs to maximise on things like hospitality sales and any special offers or occasions.
- All week(school)night TV games fixed before the season kicks off - and I don't say all Thursday night games, because the broadcaster may want to try Monday's again. But getting the scheduling that is most moaned about sorted early doors just makes things easier all round.
- More televised games - ok, this is obvious too, but worth trying for. Ideally, we'd get all games televised like in the NRL - one Thursday, one Friday, two Saturday, two Sunday (but then I know people will moan about not having a regular home game day...you can't win in Rugby League eh!?)
- Sunday tea-time games throughout February - little bit less obvious, but the sport I think translates best to ours might be American Football. If we're still with Sky, their Sunday evening NFL audience needs tapping into as the NFL season ends and the Super League season starts. Filling the same TV scheduling slot is a perfect way to work on that audience. Super League should be asking Sky for this as part of any new deal. Hopefully, they would be an additional TV game each instead of just one of the normal two.
- More Saturday tea-time games in May and June - on a similar line to the above suggestion, this is where we can pick up the usual Saturday early-evening football slot to try and tap into the audience used to watching team sports at that particular time slot. Obviously, if that was to stay a Catalans slot and we still get those games in the UK (or maybe even Catalans & Toulouse) then this slot will be naturally filled, so it's about picking up the slot in open weeks. Again, Super League should be putting this to Sky. Surely it's a potential win for both parties too. Obviously, if the new deal was with another provider then we look at their existing slots and find ones we can best fill when other sports are in off-season.
- Guarantees of a more even split in coverage - this only really applies if we stick with the 2.5 TV games a week schedule - but how can it be right that one team is on TV 6 times (Salford) in the regular season and another 18 times (Castleford)? Is this even what we really want as armchair viewers? When you recognise that one of those games was at Magic Weekend and one was Catalans away, it made 5th place Castleford (in this particular season) the Sky pick four times more often than 3rd place Salford. TV audiences have been deprived of this great Salford side when such uneven coverage can happen.
- No Thursday games in the first week of the playoffs - maybe no Thursday playoffs at all, but that might be pushing it, and you have to make some concessions in negotiations - it's no good for Sky or Super League for a side to get half their average crowd for a playoff game, which happened to Warrington this year. Whatever the reasons, some action needs to be seen to be taken to address this. (more on Thursday Night games coming soon, keep your eye on the blog!)
- Some free-to-air games - a tough one for sure - we need to get more games in front of more eyes, and we need to get the support of the broadcaster in doing this. BT have done it with Rugby Union. Sky did it with the Cricket World Cup Final. A few games a year need to be shared with free-to-air TV. Whether it's the headline game a Magic Weekend, or an opening weekend fixture, a playoff semi-final or whatever, we need to get agreement to put some stuff out there free-to-air to spread the fan base and generate more interest.
Thanks for reading and please comment with your thoughts on what Super League need to go to the negotiating table looking for from the new deal.