Dutch team aims for Super League place

New Dutch rugby league club Rotterdam Spartans aim to gain a license into the Super League by the end of their 10 year plan.

Known as Sparta, the new club has ambitious plans to launch Netherlands rugby league into greater heights under the guidance of Rotterdam Spartans Rugby League Chairman Mr Philip Kimmet.

The Spartans will be based in the city of Rotterdam that boasts a population of 620,000 as the second largest city in the Netherlands. The Spartans are in the process of attracting home and away fixtures against UK or French rugby league clubs over the summer months for 2012, at this stage strong interest is shown by leading British amateur and conference level teams.

The Spartans depending on (on and off-field progress) results and league requirements will than likely target playing in the UK (either conference or CC1), or a French RL competition.

As part of their 10 year plan, Sparta aim to be a highly respected and internationally recognised club with the club goal central to the Nederlands Rugby League Bond’s efforts to develop a strong domestic league.

Philip stated “At least the equivalent of rugby union, albeit characterised by a culture of excellence and achievement underpinned by strong family values that strikes a chord with Nederlanders feeling somewhat disenfranchised by hooligan behaviour at football matches.”

The revelation comes to fruition with the initiative of Sparta Rugby with a brand new 5 Million Euro (funded) facilities being developed for joint use by Rugby League and Union through the Rotterdam City Council. The joint project will open from May 1st 2012, which will optimise ground usage, generate revenue over the bar in the summer and overrule cricketers wanting a pitch on the field.

The new premises will feature a large clubhouse, indoor training facilities, state of the art gym and player accommodation, while upon opening will only have a grassed bank around the field, but grandstands can be developed upon further league requirements and spectator interest.

Spartans have been in the process of inviting clubs from Europe to participate for friendly matches at the new ground, while also looking to play matches away on tour prior to May 1st.

The club are hoping to play at least one CC1 semi pro club. Visiting clubs will receive support from the Spartans in their stay with travel and accommodation assistance through potential Sparta’s corporate sponsors with travel packages.

The Sparta Board have the goal of attracting ten clubs to their new ground from 2012 May and are confident in having a strong record with the Board already confirming teams “Siddal, Leigh Miners, Bank Quay Bulls and Chester Gladiators, are all keen to play us at home, while Leeds Akkies are hopeful and we are confident we can provide the venue for the Netherlands residents side’s annual game against Oxford University. We are also confident of attracting representative sides such as the UK Firefighters, Army Services teams and East England.”

The Sparta are in the process of recruiting a number of international players through young talented Australasian players to relocate to the Netherlands, while looking to gain a chance at a professional career in future. They will set the bar high with the club looking for high standard opposition and looking to establish a winning culture from the outset with high competitiveness.

The question on reader’s lips may be – but how will this rugby league expansion be funded while other league expansion has failed?

Philip outlines that many potential sponsors have been approached already since the initiative began, but says “the Spartans do not underestimate the enormity of building a new sporting culture in a country dominated by football”, but realise despite the current economic climate they will be taking small steps toward their goals, intending to be well positioned when the economy picks up.

Rotterdam possesses the largest port in Europe ensuring the economy stays robust meaning the city naturally has many large businesses that could be potential sponsors.

The Spartans believe positive media attention in the nation and the UK (with rugby league media) will help achieve stronger financial support, but only through strengthening the product they can sell: establishing a strong winning culture to attract fans, exotic location and credible business plan, after potential sponsors feedback on exposure and an having an expanding supporter base. A major part of the potential Spartans (on and off-field) success will be the essential task of gaining the media exposure and long term viability.

The Spartans RL will be under the Sparta club brand synonymous with Dutch sport (chiefly Football) and will be partnering with Sportief Capelle, a local government sporting agency (again with Rotterdam Topsports included) we extensive media and promotional contacts. While more support through a government body called Rotterdam Topsports would also help their cause, as the agency was commissioned to establish the city as a sporting capital in Europe.

This theory of attempting to build a new sporting culture in a football dominant country aims to emulate the NRL club Storm’s success as Philip says “We take heart in Melbourne Storm‘s success, where AFL is more a religion than just the dominant sport. Nederlanders love to dress up in orange and support their national teams, and let’s face it, everyone loves a winner. And if the Spartans didn’t believe that rugby league is a great spectacle, they wouldn’t be embarking on this journey at all.”

Known as the gateway to Europe, could Rotterdam be a gateway for the future of rugby league? Its sheer proximity to the UK (half the distance of Perpignan to North England) makes the location a viable future option requiring just a short flight or “just a ferry ride across the North Sea from Hull and London”. They will be relying on this handy, yet exotic location and hopefully an emerging reputation as a competitive team to continue to attract touring sides to help generate revenue at these home games, and to demonstrate our potential to sponsors.

The Spartan’s goal is to tour frequently and to visit the teams that so generously come to play us, and clearly establishing the finances to do this is fundamental to being invited to join a foreign league.

The Spartans player recruitment model will be based on attracting some young (early 20’s) Australasian talent who are looking for a second chance at a professional career with a potential pathway to Europe, as they are still looking for higher opportunities to play at the elite levels.

Mr Kimmet says “The Spartan’s provide a great support network and the opportunities to make an impression in the UK and France against quality opposition. Our role at the Spartans is simply to do all we can to get our best talents noticed by professional clubs.”

While the club will provide an ideal opportunity for ambitious coaches as they have already attracted interested well-credentialed coaches for 2012. They are in current talks for 10 young players from the Southern Hemisphere, looking to secure at least half (or more), while already having useful expats and young Dutch talent that the Spartans will seek to improve through the imports and qualified coaches.

They say an aim is “making stars out of our Dutch players will be central to building our supporter base.” Such talent includes players with NYC experience, Queensland or NSW Cup contracts, or feature in A-Grade level (QRL local competitions, CRL Cup, Group level) and have expressed for 2012 “to come to the Rotterdam Spartans for a playing holiday to check the club than the club will look to secure their services for 2013”.

The club states “We are anticipating a training squad of around 40, which will allow us to field two strong teams in an afternoon. The idea is to have the Capelle Spartans (Dutch local club) to play another Dutch outfit, to be followed by the Rotterdam Spartans playing the tourists we have lined up. On the weekends we aren’t hosting or touring we intend trialing amongst ourselves. We are hoping that our success will encourage teams to form out of the existing rugby clubs as word spreads and the season progresses.”

The Netherlands domestic competition is in early development with the existing (summer based) competition undergoing 3 seasons with currently 4 clubs in the Zuid (South) Holland province. Expansion is touted for 2012 in The Hague for starters, while various senior internationals, tour matches and some youth internationals have been played since 2003 (for a full review see the State of Nation – Netherlands article on Rugby League Planet). There are also several rugby union clubs in the Spartan’s same province, but union is seen as a student’s game (for social times) rather than aspiring to excellence (having higher fitness and skill like elite nations).

The challenge of ensuring rugby league becomes a recognised and accepted sport for Dutch families is one in the minds of the NRLB and Rotterdam Spartans RL as NRLB Chairman Jason Bruygoms said “Nederland is a soccer crazed country and most parents don’t really like the idea of their children playing contact sports due to fears of injury.”

They aim to overcome this by looking at successful lessons from other Rugby playing nations in “repackaging and marketing” junior rugby league through programs such as South Sydney‘s Bunny ball program, weight for age in juniors (Sydney’s West reintroducing) and League Tag. Philip reiterates the initiative with “the game needs to move with the times, and the great thing about the Netherlands is that we have an empty canvas and a great opportunity to trial innovative strategies to appeal to young people, and importantly their parents.”

While the Sparta has an existing relation with some local schools they will be undertaking coaching clinics and practical elements within physical education programs to increase rugby league awareness and knowledge. An interschool rugby league tournament is being looked at for future junior recruitment for a development academy as general interest increases for rugby league and the club.

Spectators will be encouraged to attend with initial free entry for the first season, whilst supporting the club with canteen, bar, raffles and member initiatives. Signed and potential sponsors will have corporate marquees and hospitality services available for entertainment arranged first with the club contact.

The Spartans urge any willing business “to get behind a team determined to build a wining culture, in the knowledge that we will be loyal to those who help us early in our development when we most need it. So any businesses regardless of where they are based, looking to expand in the Netherlands generally and Rotterdam in particular, should seriously think about the increasing exposure we are hoping to offer for a very modest investment.”

 

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