Editor’s Column: The Times are changing – rugby league’s reality

James Gordon

It’s hardly a surprise that The Times is dropping its rugby league coverage.

What is surprising is the outrage of conspiracy and accusations elitism that has followed it.

While we may like to play the victim at times, the fact is that rugby league is a minority sport and one that is becoming increasingly marginalised, largely by its own internal squabbles.

Until it gets its own house in order, it is not likely to become attractive to anyone on the outside – whether that be the national media, commercial partners or fans in expansion areas.

Crowds are down, there are no fixtures for two months (until Wednesday), there’s an ongoing power struggle between clubs and finance problems at others.

The media, like sponsors, are commercial enterprises. They need to make money. The media do that, by and large, by selling advertising. If very few numbers are reading their rugby league coverage, then it is unlikely they’ll want to continue resourcing it.

Coverage elsewhere, particularly in The Mirror, The Sun and The Guardian, is superb and is probably in excess of what rugby league warrants in terms of the size and nationwide interest of the sport. That’s not being negative, that’s being realistic.

The challenges rugby league face aren’t getting coverage in The Times. They are to find a united front, to grow sustainable clubs and arrest the fall in attendances and participation numbers. The occasional article in a newspaper isn’t going to fix that.

The most popular sports get the most coverage. From speaking to a national sports editor, their top three sports in terms of traffic are football, Formula 1 and boxing. That’s before you even get to the likes of cricket, rugby union and tennis. With newsrooms becoming more sparse and with more work shared across less people, its focus will always be on the bigger sports.

The Manchester Evening News barely touch anything outside of Manchester City and Manchester United, and that is a local paper. That’s because the traffic and readership they receive for those two teams are far greater than anything else, and as a result, they don’t want to use resource on covering Salford, Sale Sharks, other football teams and other sports.

There’s a north-south divide in this country that goes far beyond rugby league.

We moan about various aspects of the sport on a regular basis; then we moan when it doesn’t get media coverage or sponsors. We can’t have it both ways.

Over to the powers that be to unravel the mess and hopefully we won’t have disappeared altogether by the time that happens.