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.

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.

Blackout

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.

8 Comments

  1. There is only one way out. Market leaders hold there position in the market: only by brand allegiance. Without a brand, simply forget it! Question: what position would ‘Nike’ hold in the market without a brand and logo? Answer: it would only be classified as a good running shoe, and struggle along with others to retain a share in the market. That is what is happening to Rugby League. It is a ‘SPECTICAL’ without a brand and logo, and therefore struggling to maintain its position in the market. Brands are made up of names and key letters for the population to recognize and form an allegiance. What is the letter that will catapult Rugby League and maintain its game identity to the top echelon. The letter is ‘N’ standing for National Rugby League and the logo: simply a Rugby ball, with the brand incapsulated within in gold letters. NRL, National Rugby League will stand alongside with NFL and NBA: very important connection with the population! Super League, Championship and other leagues will still exist within the structure and framework for the game as one united body: National Rugby League – NRL. The impact of a strong brand name will have the same effect of when League broke away from the shackles of amateurism. The difference wants empathizing again by the BRAND. There are structures that will propel the game back to the top – if you want to learn more – just ask!
    Hope the powers that maybe can learn.
    Nikolay

  2. This all started because Maurice Lindsay paid £550 grand for Martin Offiah and he sold RL soul to Murdoch as it was his only opportunity to get his money back and great clubs like keighley featherstone et al went to hell. I haven’t watched RL since despite my family being involved since 1864

  3. Is it true we licence the term Rugby World Cup to the RFU? Withdraw the licence. Start fighting them for every crime they’ve ever committed against us since 1895. A campaign in France to remind them of their collaboration with the Nazi regime, stealing thevassets of the French Rugby League.

    Massive campaigns within those communities where we’ve always led the way! Like Roy Francis back in the 1950s, first black professional coach, Clive Sullivan, first professional black captain of a ?national side. Ellery Hanley a man ofvsuch immense talentband skill it never occured to most he was black, he was just the best player, love him or hate him, you wanted him in your team! Who’ll ever forget that Gladiators thing, I looked it up on YouTube, he barely broke a sweat demolishing the “experts” and course.

    We’ve got to fight back, the sport is so supine!

    Demand the BBC stop with the “for those of you new to Rugby League, in 1921 you might possibly get away with it, in 2021 it’s insulting and demeaning! They don’t do it in football, cricket, union, hockey, horse racing, darts, it’s a disgrace.

    How long until Robbie Paul, when on the sidelines, is required to wear a flat hat, clogs, a donkey jacket, a pint of mild in one hand and a whippet on a string!

    • “We’ve got to fight back, the sport is so supine!”

      No need to stress Eric Total RL is on the case and fighting the good fight!

    • People put so much emphasis on France while ignoring the fact the even in the last decade or so alone RU has lobbied and banned RL in Morocco and in the UAE. The UAE even arrested the RL head in that country.

      RU also blacklists its players from participating in RL in Japan and South Africa; anyone who does otherwise is banned from playing RU again. Similar moves happen elsewhere around the world, and used to happen in the UK too in places like Scotland and Wales.

  4. The fallout and vitriol over the latest cash grab in football has actually shone a light on a way forward for us.

    For years ive thought we needed to follow the commerciality.

    The perceived negative to attracting commercial money is actually our differentiation.

    We are a Working class game and we should embrace it.

    Our players dont live in a multimillionaire bubble.

    There is a Toughness, Honest and Authentic in our game that football has lost.

    And we are a game that needs fans support IN the ground and could us it in the board room.

    Communicate that and the money will still follow and the game will thrive.

    We dont need to be a Super League – We need to start owning Rugby League again.

    • That is only effective to an extent, a very small extent. There needs to be balance. RL isn’t even mainstream in England, let alone the UK, let alone Europe, let alone the world.

      RFL/SL needs to work on its marketing and branding, especially online and among the youth and migrant communities. Approach airliners and clothing brands for sponsorship. IRL needs to approach countries’ sports ministries directly to put money into the game to build teams domestically in their country. Personally, I think focus should be put on the Balkans and Turkey where there are already clubs. Turkish Airlines being a sponsor for the RFL/SL is a no-brainer. They already sponsor basketball’s EuroLeague, and they currently have no UK clubs/leagues they’re sponsoring but through Super League they have a guarantee into British homes. Betfred pays around £1 million annually; that’s a bargain for others who could double that easily.

      Australian businessmen need to be approached to invest in RFL/SL and grow the game because they understand it, as should businessmen in North America who want something new to sink their money into. Amazon is directly airing Rugby Union comps and paying tens of millions for it. Why can’t RL get on a streaming service like Disney+ for global distribution (excluding British Isles and Australia). Now you’re in homes from Latin America to Asia and introducing the sport to millions of new fans.

  5. “I haven’t watched RL since despite my family being involved since 1864”

    This makes perfect sense in a world where a PM portrays himself as champion of the people after saying a publicly funded vaccine was a tribute to greed and capitalism.

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