Editor’s column: The beginning of the end for the European Super League
The major talking point in sport over the weekend was the European Super League – if only it was the one that’s been in existence for 25 years.
The latest money grab at elite football level threatens to anonymise rugby league’s top level European competition, which is already suffering following the ever increasing prominence of the Women’s Super League brand in football.
With a re-amalgamation with the RFL in the near future likely, it is perhaps the right time for rugby league to consider re-branding the Super League competition, but as a continuation of it rather than completely starting again.
World Rugby (union) is already out-muscling the 13-man code for the term “rugby”, so league can ill afford to be losing the very little identity it has left with Super League.
My suggestion? RFL Premiership. It may be a good time to focus on ‘RFL’ as a logical abbreviation and identity for competitions at the top level, in a similar way that many other elite leagues have adopted (NFL, NBA, NHL, NRL, EFL etc).
The RFL Challenge Cup, RFL Championship, RFL National League etc could sit underneath.
Seriously though, with football hijacking the IP to the term ‘Super League’ and with a new #RugbyLeague TV contact in negotiations, now is probably the best time to rebrand to the RFL Premiership, or even court significant investment from Australia and go with NRL Europe.
— Gavin Wilson (@GavWilson) April 19, 2021
It will be interesting to see whether the recently re-branded federation, European Rugby League, gets involved in any discussions too.
One thing is for sure, it’s a bit of a headache that rugby league could do without right now.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that these money grabs and indeed the current pandemic has hinted that sport is losing touch with its fans.
The constant desperation for more and more money is alienating those that are sport’s reason for being.
The bottom line is, sport is about what happens on the pitch. Yes, it’s a huge business, but take away the former and it’s a mere shadow of what it’s designed to be.
The current situation where fans of Super League clubs cannot watch their own teams through no fault of their own is an abomination.
Unless you had the wherewithal or the finances to shell out for a season ticket, you are unable to watch your team live – because all the games are behind closed doors and not broadcast.
The reasons behind this haven’t been publicly announced and any responses for comment have been particularly vague.
An RFL spokesperson said: “It is a decision for the broadcast rights holder.
“Sky are kindly ensuring that all season ticket holders have the opportunity to watch their club in action behind closed doors, even if they don’t have a Sky subscription.”
Clearly, and understandably, Super League clubs don’t want to suffer a short-term loss of Sky Sports funding; which they would have to relinquish if the broadcaster was to sacrifice their rights (which they have paid for) to enable games to be shown elsewhere.
But it’s a slap in the face for those fans who pay their hard earned for tickets week in, week out – the same fans that clubs have spent the last year asking for money for merchandise or to donate last season’s season ticket.
Surely, Sky could have found a way to show all the games themselves behind a paywall that everyone could access, or at least struck a deal to enable the Our League app to allow match passes to be bought (even if they turned out to be £20 a game to ensure season ticket holders were still getting value).
Even when fans return, those outside the chosen ones are forgotten about too, and given virtually all the clubs average more than 4,000 – some of them comfortably more than double that – there are inevitably going to be some very disappointed (or forever alienated?) fans.
You might argue that if fans wanted to watch the games, they could have simply bought a season ticket. But some clubs were limiting season ticket sales, to ensure they don’t have any headaches when fans can return to grounds – and so they can maximise the income potential by ensuring there are still some match tickets to purchase each week.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Sky Sports money underpins the game – but once that dries up, if all that’s left is the absolute hardcore of fans, then the future looks murky.