20 May 2014

The Future for Championship 1

Just like over at Red Hall, we at Super League Pod are keen on a whole game approach. With that in mind Mark has given some time this week to thinking about the future of our third tier, currently known as Championship 1.

Torch bearer of all things RL Championships related Gareth Walker recently revealed the proposed options for the third tier in the publication he edits, Rugby League World (and then again in sister publication League Express). So, many of you should have seen these by now.

There are three options that the clubs have been given to consider:

(1) A straight home & away 26 game league season. Top would be promoted to tier two along with the winner of a four team playoff for the other promotion spot.
(2) A 22 game league season with the same promotion & relegation method used, together with a 16 team cup competition including National Conference league and cup winners.
(3) A 20 game league season, with the same cup competition as above, but different playoffs. 1st would play 2nd, the winner getting promoted, the loser joining 3-5 in a four team playoff to decide the other promoted side.

Walker suggests that the clubs are keenest on option (2). On the face of it, it is the most sensible - it keeps a good number of games, whilst not being too complicated, along with having a few options for success that teams have to play for.

The first thought that occurred to me was how much excitement would the cup competition being if you're essentially going to be playing against the same teams you do in the league? It would be great for the two amateur clubs, but would fans really care? Would the fixtures become stale and repetitive? I think there is a real possibility of that.

There are two ways of livening it up, but they will not come together sadly.

Firstly, a great incentive would be to put the final as a Challenge Cup final curtain raiser (let's face it, no Champ 1 team will make that game in this era). A chance for clubs and players at that level to get the Wembley experience would be massive.

Secondly, however, it would be an opportunity for some clubs to keep their season alive, especially with it being a 14 team comp but only 5 teams seeing promotion possibilities at the end of the regular season. The 'however' is because the Cup final is likely to move forward (as we've said before, first Saturday in June would be ideal, but May is more likely). This means the cup competition can only be a Wembley curtain raiser of its played mid-season, when everyone's season is still alive.

Something fair to say is that what they have come up with isn't particularly radical and innovative, which may well come as a rare relief for rugby league fans!

One thing is now for certain, the third tier isn't being completely bypassed by the restructure, even if they are being financially sidestepped from taking rewards from the new TV deal.

The RFL and the Championship 1 clubs have to strike the right balance and find the best way to come up with an interesting and affordable way forward.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what the best option to take might be and any ideas you might have that the powers that be haven't come up with. Leave a comment or get in touch through the normal social media routes.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to listen to the show!

7 May 2014

What More Can Be Done? (some simple ideas for British Rugby League)

Again we have a partial repost of a piece Mark wrote for his own blog last year, but we've added plenty of new ideas and want your ideas too.

We would emphasise this is a fan's eye view on what could be done. Plenty of this may already be done, more could undoubtedly be done though.

We'll start with an abridged version of Mark's 2013 ideas (full version here):
  • All full-time contracted players should be contractually obliged to make themselves available at least one afternoon or evening each week (from Jan to Sep lets say as a minimum standard) to visit local schools, amateur clubs, charities and youth groups. 
  • Full-time players must also be made available to meet local media on a regular basis (once a month?) and national media on a less regular basis (mandatory in week before big events, otherwise at least twice a season) - newspaper, radio and TV. Clubs should impose players on the media rather than wait for requests in order to help build anticipation for matches etc. 
  • Major club news (transfers, coaching appointments etc.) could be released through 'exclusive' reports in a national and a daily local newspaper with exclusive interview access to that person, rather than a generic club press release - similar arrangement should be made with a TV & radio news broadcaster for interview access. Press conferences can follow later in the week for more general access for reporting within the sport specific press in their Monday papers.
  • The RFL and clubs should use their own marketing or media relations staff to write copy for local papers who might not be able to afford the resources to dedicate time to reporting as much Rugby League as would be preferable.
  • Every club should designate a player or coaching staff member to write a regular diary to their fans and also have players doing regular columns in the local newspaper.
  • High profile overseas players and England international players should be offered regularly and often to TV companies to appear on sports panel shows or celebrity TV specials (one-off things like pointless celebrities more than long series like I'm a celebrity). Clubs should be accommodating to releasing players for this too. The more recognisable faces, the more sponsors will come in.
  • The RFL should contact its celebrity supporters and get them involved in promotional material for the game, even just a video clip sound bite or something.

Jon Wilkin's piece in April's Forty-20 Magazine was one of the inspirations for some new ideas we've come up with. Wilkin spoke of the need to dedicate time and central resources (not necessarily money) to development areas if we as a sport are committed to making them work. This can be extended to talk about all struggling clubs across British rugby league. What needs to be remembered, yet is often forgotten when blame is getting assigned for club failures, is that a sports league is an interdependent entity that needs all participants to be strong to get stronger as a league.
  • Centralised support of marketing, promotional activity and online presence. We can't have clubs not having match day programmes or not having up to date websites.
  • Centrally negotiated or supported kit and merchandise deals. The governing body have to lend weight where clubs are having issues getting products to sell to their fans.
  • Higher levels of cross subsidisation of revenue in the top level. The best way to even out competition is the stronger drawing clubs sharing a higher proportion of their revenues with the weaker drawing clubs. Clubs should not be forced to stand alone, especially where we're looking for development and growth. Richer clubs need other clubs to have a competition to play in.
  • The governing body need to foster a collaborative environment between clubs at board room level, rather than a competitive one. A club that has some success with an off field initiative should be sharing that with other clubs. We're not talking about training methods or tactics, we're taking about where a ticketing or marketing initiative has worked, or where a positive supplier or sponsor relationship exists, or successful community programmes. 
  • RFL community coaches should have closer links to the local clubs in the areas they are active, most crucially in development and expansion areas. Dual branded clothing with the RFL logo and local club logo would be a simple measure. A marketing pitch and goody bag including ticket offers could be given to parents or schools before/after sessions.
  • A guide to all the grounds, provided by the RFL, that can be included by all clubs in season ticket packs. The world cup organisers provided one for that tournament that went out with all ticket orders. It will provide useful advice that may encourage more fans to plan to and get to away games.

We've given some ideas that we feel would be practical, simple and possible to implement.
We also asked for your ideas. We didn't really want big ideas or suggestions, we wanted smaller simpler ideas. We've included some of the larger, structural ideas that get mentioned plenty but would encourage you to concentrate more on those little ideas clubs can get to work on now. We got a decent balance of both from our listeners and would like to thank everyone who got in touch. Here are some of your ideas, grand and small:

Dar Garner @alfiewolf
  • Make it family friendly cash wise, e.g. £5 for kids at all stadiums for 3 rounds (decided at the start of the season ) all clubs to do this.  
  • All games to have an under-age curtain raiser played from each of the local schools within that area then those boys lead the teams out for the main event. How many parents does that bring in, and help to expand the game.
  • The top 4 clubs have 1 designated home game played in a different area where rugby league is not played and the run up to the games are marketed as much as possible. Suggested locations: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Bristol. Its called the expedition round. (SLP ed. note: an 'on the road' round has been trialled previously with varying success)
  • Give all players the skills needed to cope with the media, so to give good interviews. Take Sam Burgess now compared to when he left the bulls, he is much slicker interview wise. This would help again to promote the game and give a better potrayal of what the game can bring.

Scott Quibell @ScottQuibell85
  • I think there should be a separate pot from central funding for each club only to be used on marketing, especially in the lower leagues. It's so so difficult for clubs in the Championships to advertise due to expense.

NOC @HalifaxExile
  • Publish teams a day before the game as in RU, gives papers and journalists more to go at, could increase column inches.

Mike Hallett @mikehallett55
  • I'd bring back the War of the Roses - Yorkshire V Lancashire #OriginOfOrigin
  • More International games and more Rugby League TV shows.

Paul @mozza_Leeds
  • I think they should employ ex-players to help video refs. Ex-players will understand the game better help cut out errors.
  • Marketing wise they need to be stronger with TV. Last two rounds of cup and only one game on live TV. BBC don't care, Super League Show on at silly hours in morning. Make them show more live games as part of rights.

Bob Phillips @drbobphillips
  • Similar to rail stations, it would be good if we could have league wide e-tickets making away games easier in particular.
  • Video clips like in Headingley about how the ground works for new fans? (SLP ed. note: Leeds video example here
  • Different approaches for new and revival audiences. And increased commitment from existing. So, new folk need to be brought by pals. Challenge Cup 2-4-1 for members would work well. Revivalist need reminding, so probably print and poster adverts in heartlands to remind folk the game is on and where to go. Grass-roots game probably draws a different group, going to take their child, or the child being a player, not to watch the game in the same way.
  • Other awareness raising could be with big screen games in cities - not Henman Hill but Sinfield Square or Chase Place.

Josie Andrews @josie_andrews13
  • The playoffs need to go back to 5 teams with the league winners straight through to the Grand Final.
  • Move Challenge Cup Final back to May.
  • More promotion and advertising of our game.
  • Better pricing structures.
  • Encourage fans to travel by providing safe transport.

  • The international eligibility rules are terrible. We need transparency in this area.

London Faithful @LondonFaithful
  • A beer sponsorship? So the Super League logo is spread on cans across the UK. (SLP ed. note: the Challenge Cup is sponsored by a beer brand)
  • More internationals and a fixed home stadium for England games.
  • One set of rules for the globe

MICHAEL DONNELLY @mikeldonnelly
  • Join up with NRL to develop approaches. Maybe set up a player exchange/co-registration deal?

Andie Riley @Andie99uk
  • Not having the same man in charge of Super League, the RFL AND now it seems the International federation.
  • More qualified officials. That way, hopefully a better standard of refereeing at all levels of the professional game. (SLP ed. note: a new match officials structure has recently been announced by the RFL, read about it here)

Andi Jarvis @andijarvis
  • Have you seen Running Man with Arnie? Any of the features they had. (SLP ed. note: some ideas are more valid than others)

We want this to be a continuous and collaborative piece so if you have any other ideas that we haven't covered, or want to add your ideas on ways we can achieve some of the things that have already been mentioned let us know and we'll continue to add to this piece. You can comment below, send your ideas to us over Twitter or Facebook, or email us at superleaguepod@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and keep listening to the show. We really appreciate the input and support!
Mark and Tom