As some of the more keen observers amongst you may have guessed from the lack of activity on my twitter account I’ve been away for a week (or you may have just read it in my last blog post). Luckily I escaped the dying tail of hurricane Katia and had a lovely sun soaked week on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I flew from Manchester and which gave me the chance of sneaking a peak at the new Salford stadium just off the M60 near the Trafford centre. I know it’s the Salford stadium but only because I know Salford are building a stadium about there and it would be a mighty big co-incidence if there were two stadia like that going up in the same vicinity. The problem, which I have heard echoed from others as well, is that nobody knows. They drive past, they see this stadium going up and there’s nothing to tell them who’s it is. How have Salford missed this marketing opportunity to stick up a bill board, facing the M60, and proclaim to the world, or at least all those driving to and from the Trafford centre, that this will be their new home?
Whilst I was away I picked up a popular league newspaper to read, after all there was a lack of internet on holiday so I couldn’t exactly read Love Rugby League on the beach. There in the letters page I saw mention of the Four nations from a reader in London who was bemoaning the lack of advertising in the capital for the double header on bonfire night. Apparently it seems to be pretty much the case that you wouldn’t even know we were within two months of this massive double header at Wembley. This isn’t a new question posed by fans and followers of the sport, where is the advertising? Personally I’m often pleasantly surprised when I see any form of advertising for a league competition outside of something in league specific publications. For instance I alighted a train at Lancaster a few months ago to find a poster for a Wigan Huddersfield game and was pleased to see something being done. I’m sure most fans themselves will have complained at some point about the lack of exposure the game gets and how many will tell you we have a “superior product” on the pitch but people don’t know about it?
I guess the big question though is what to do about it? Should the onus lie with clubs to spend more on advertising games? If so what about the international games, surely that’s the realm of the RFL? Should they be doing more? Should there be more of an emphasis on advertising within the TV deal? Is the idea to get more people to watch on TV or more people through the turnstiles, or ideally both?
Personally I think there needs to be a combination of approaches. There needs to be a considerable effort from the RFL and if that means apportioning a larger amount of Super League money to a central advertising pot then so be it, but a solid, professional campaign both in and out of the heartlands, across all leagues should be visible – it’s not just Super League and it’s not just in new areas that Rugby League can be promoted. The RFL obviously have to have the initiative for international rugby as well, again I guess paid from a central pot. Whilst clubs may complain at being short changed, as long as any monies taken are evenly spread, any money spent on advertising benefits all. But it should also not mean clubs should scrimp on the promotion themselves. We assess clubs on many off field criteria for Super League and promotion and advertising of the game should be right up there.
One issue I am stuck on is coverage, it’s a catch 22, for newspapers to publish rugby league they want the audience and for the audience to get bigger we need more coverage in the national press. So how do you go about getting that extra coverage? I honestly have no idea but we need to do something. I picked up the paper this morning to see the back page given over to Lancashire’s county championship win (well done Lancs by the way) but I can’t remember the last time League even made up part of the back page – maybe the Leaf betting saga on a slow news, close football season day. Fair enough the cricket finished in mid week for a Friday paper at a time early in the football season where games don’t matter too much, but League is mostly played at times when football isn’t on or results don’t matter much and rarely makes the leap to back page, and the cricket did beat European football to take the back. I doubt there’ll be that much fuss when the Super League champions are crowned this year.
But I’m also left asking how much does the extra coverage matter, a higher amount of obvious coverage would be beneficial for the sport, but at the same time if we can get people interested then for those who want it there is plenty of specialist coverage to be had easily, and cheaply by simply straying not very far from the same news-stand you get pick up your national paper from.
I think to start with though we need to do a few things right like stop missing the little, obvious and easy opportunities, the sign by Salford’s ground and promoting the big games in the capitol are just two. We also need to start piggy backing onto other things that can get us coverage, Steve Prescott’s great charity work is a good example, also build on the back of the high profile of people like Gareth Thomas within our sport whilst trying to boost the profile of others playing the game. Lastly we need to make the heartland a proper heartland, people need to arrive in Leeds and see this is a rugby league city, people need to visit Wigan and see that this is a town that is about the cherry and white and not The Latics and people need to drive past Salford and see that this is a team that is investing and growing.
I’m sure many people have a view on this but personally I do think it seems that the game is slightly behind the times in it’s advertising and yes it costs money, but at the same time it doesn’t cost a lot to put in a few more easy and obvious things into play.
Onto the great product we have on the pitch, and my previous predictions were slightly awry, I got the top two the wrong way round but I did call the final drop out of the top 8 for Cas. Still all in all I’ve finished the regular season with a 65% correct tipping average over the season, over all competitions – I’ll see what my Super League one was for this blog at the end of the play offs – so not too bad. How do I reckon this first lot of play offs will pan out? Lets see (and I’ve stopped picking scores for the playoffs – it’s just winners now)
Catalan – Hull KR – It’s only a few weeks since Hull KR took a trip to France and won, could they do it again? The Dragons looked to be building some formidable form, especially at home, only to struggle a little in recent weeks. Still they’ll be much happier with the home draw and I’d expect to see the Dragons win.
Warrington – Huddersfield – League leaders shield in hand I think you’d be mad to put money down against the Wire. Formidable form record both home and away is just the momentum you want to roll into the play offs with against a team with two wins in the last 5. Wire to win.
Wigan – St Helens – A huge game for these two, it’s certainly tough to call. Both teams going well, both teams with players missing. A home win I think.
Leeds – Hull – I think this is the game most likely to produce what some would term a surprise with a Hull win, although it would be the must unsurprising surprise in the history of surprises. If I remember correctly it was a dull game last time these two met, let hope it’s a little better with a bit more on the line – Hull win.
So there you go – the first round of playoffs and then after this somebody Warrington choose a team and we end up with another round. If you get bored in the meantime though check out the skills of the Catalans Dragons, I wouldn’t let them cook your sausages though.
Found via twitterer @angelampowers