Life Without League: How we’re adapting to the lockdown

A new project called Life Without League is calling for people to document what it’s like without rugby league – so here’s my first entry.

Clearly, having a job as editor of Love Rugby League when there’s no rugby league is a bit of a struggle.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve only actually missed one round of fixtures so far, as it feels like so much longer.

No match previews, no squad announcements, no injury news, no matches to cover, no post-match press conferences and no endless debate on the moments of the weekend passed.

During the season, that starves us of a large part of our content and takes a way a large part of our weekly content plan.

We’ve already seen already, that our friends at League Weekly have pulled production of the newspaper during the lockdown; simply because filling however many pages each week just isn’t viable with no rugby league – though they did an admirable job in their most recent edition on Monday.

Our office in Warrington stayed open until Thursday last week, and this week our full-time staff have been working from home. Sadly, our freelance resource had to be cut almost immediately when the lockdown started, unfortunately denying our usual weekend staff that income. With no action to cover, clearly there was no use for it.

We had to halt production of our podcast, largely because of the uncertainty about getting guests in the building. I did have a conversation about possibly hosting a mental health related podcast in partnership with State of Mind, but the government guidelines have virtually put paid to that now.

Life Without League

What is it? A project to document the impact of coronavirus upon a sporting community as it happens, capturing snapshots of these unprecedented times for future generations, and place on the historic record people’s thoughts and feelings as the pandemic unfolds.

Whether you’re a supporter, a volunteer, or you are employed in the game, we are asking you to take part.

Find out more | Download diary template | Life Without League website

Typically, our photo agency overheads would fit under this bracket – though the need to use imagery and most importantly archive photos has meant this has been considered as an essential expense even at these times, and even with no games in prospect.

In hindsight, we should have made a bigger deal of the NRL action last weekend. Behind closed doors, every game available either on TV or WatchNRL, we perhaps should have done more editorial around them. That’s not our usual style of course, as we stick to round-ups and features, as naturally being UK-based, our focus and audience is on our own competitions.

Over the past 18-24 months, we have seen significant improvements in our traffic and visitor numbers, which were still climbing. Our off-season traffic was probably up there with any peak season traffic we’ve ever had, and that had increased further at the start of this season.

In the off-season, you can build up to the season, there are player movements and some international action – we also took a shine to the French domestic competitions, visiting their Magic Weekend in November, and the Elite Championship really ought to be promoted and pushed as the third professional league in the world behind Super League and the NRL, and given much more attention.

But while there are no, or few games, with the off-season, there is a context to that. Unlike with coronavirus.

We’ve produced a number of stories relating to coronavirus to keep people updated. The likelihood is that now, there won’t be many more; just the odd update which will be triggered by statements from the RFL and Super League – the sort of content that for us means traffic is shared with the multiple other outlets sharing this information.

Maintaining our traffic levels is nigh on impossible. We have already seen a significant decrease. So this week has been about trying to come up with ideas to produce a decent volume of content, especially not related to coronavirus, to at least give people something to read.

But with no games, people’s interest in the sport wanes. Not deliberately perhaps, but just because the whole purpose of sport is what happens around the match day.

The other consideration is that we don’t know how long we will remain in this state. It’s pointless exhausting all of our ideas in the first week, when the reality is that we’re still going to need ideas for in multiple weeks, maybe months, time.

Another challenge for me is motivating our writers to create a different style of content – without any games or action to look forward to. Such is the heavy amount of generated content around match days now, that this is an alien position for many younger journalists to be in.

All of that is without touching upon the harsh economic reality. As traffic tumbles, so does the the potential return for advertisers; which ultimately underpins the site. With companies pulling marketing and advertising budgets, we’re at the mercy of our wider network’s ability to keep monetising what we do have.

It’s a really weird time to be involved in sport – we can only hope that come the end of the pandemic, that there is some sort of normality to return to.

Until next time.

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