Television coverage is extremely important for any professional sport, and rugby league is no different. Indeed, the branded lorries that constitute the Stobart Group’s payment for the title sponsorship of Super League seem to be adverts for Sky Sports’ coverage of the competition rather than the competition itself. The relationship of our game to different broadcasters has often been controversial – whether it’s the suspected anti-league bias of the BBC or the perception that Sky have too much control over the game.
At the start of the 2012 season the prospects of televised rugby league can be divided into pros and cons – essentially “the good news”, and “the bad news”.
The good news is that the Stobart Super League is this season going to be showcased in two excellent highlights shows. Super League: Full Time, broadcast Sunday night on Sky Sports 4, is what many rugby league fans – myself included – have always wanted: a Match of the Day-style highlights show, scheduled at the end of the weekend in order to include all the fixtures. The hour-long show consisted of all the tries and incidents, interviews and intelligent analysis. The BBC have also raised the bar, the new-improved Super League Show getting good reviews and finding a permanent home on Monday nights rather than being bounced throughout the schedules almost at random.
The bad news is that those who need the Super League highlights more than anyone else – those without a Sky TV subscription – won’t benefit at all from the excellent Super League: Full Time. And that problem is exacerbated by the pig-headed insistence of the BBC to broadcast the Super League Show only to the northern regions in its regular slot, with a national broadcast being made a few hours later after everyone’s gone to bed. Those with access to the BBC’s iPlayer can watch the show at leisure, but the situation remains far from ideal.
The good news is that Sky values Super League so highly that it sees the competition as a summer-time replacement for live Premier League soccer on Monday nights. These Monday-night fixtures often pull in over a million viewers, and the theory is that those used to Monday-night sport will turn their interest to rugby league instead, at least temporarily, but hopefully permanently. There are many potential holes in the theory, but it’s pleasing to know that Sky think that highly of Super League, and if nothing else Monday night may prove a better TV slot than Saturday or Sunday late afternoon.
The bad news is that Monday-night games can prove very difficult for those who have to travel long distances by car, or those who have to travel anywhere by public transport. Of course none of this is universal – there are some who will find Monday nights better than Sunday afternoons. But people travelling from work or with young children find Friday nights difficult enough, and Monday nights will be even more difficult with work and school the following day as well. It’s also going to be hard on those clubs – namely Bradford and Wigan – who have to play on Monday night, and then again on Friday night.
The good news is that Premier Sports are planning excellent coverage of the Co-operative Championships this year, with an excellent commentary team of Dave Woods, Brian Noble and Ian Ramsdale (a prospect much more palatable than Hemmings, Stephenson and the Margin-Meter). This shows that Premier Sports really value the Championship – which is becoming a fully worthwhile competition in its own right – and with their NRL coverage Premier be broadcasting over 200 live games this season. The bad news is that Premier Sports is subscription only, meaning that this excellent coverage simply won’t be available to many fans.
There are, therefore, a number of pros and cons for televised rugby league this season. The upsides are the excellent coverage, and the value that the BBC, Sky and Premier Sports all find in broadcasting our game. The downsides are the limitations of that coverage, to those with access to particular channels by region or by subscription, and perhaps the lack of consideration given to supporters actually attending matches. One thing’s for sure though – we’ll all be watching as much of it as we possibly can from now until the Grand Final, and beyond.
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