The view from the front office: Backing ourselves


I’ve been lucky enough to speak to informed sports fans, journalists, and most importantly athletes from many other pro sports around the world about the game of Rugby League, and they often reflect that it challenges for title of best team sport in the world.

From the NHL to the English Premier League, the game has genuine fans with an interest in League. It has one of the best Attack vs Defence balances in commercial sport and that is a big part of this – not too many points like in basketball, AFL etc – but enough scoring to keep every minute intense unlike football, hockey, baseball and not drowning in technical subtleties like rugby union.

The athleticism, strength, speed and professionalism of the athletes and the medical, conditioning and support teams behind them make rugby league respected and revered worldwide.

It is arguably one of the finest live team sport products on television with the 10-metre advantage line and easily viewed ruck giving clarity and a complete match status.

It’s high time Rugby League in the UK understands the quality it inherently possesses, in my opinion.

Having now spent a good length of time in the UK in the tough professional sports industry, including consulting for clubs from Super League to University level, a lack of self awareness and confidence as a sport is one of the main characteristics English Rugby League has that needs addressing in order to progress and grow the game.

Quite simply, Rugby league needs to forget other sports and just do what it does well – Rugby League. Bring it right back to basics, in terms of letting the product do the talking, and design promotional and marketing campaigns to display rugby league rather than try and sell it. There’s a big difference.

If your product is good you just need to show it to people, no need to dress it up, copy other products or try and be something it’s not.

In the same way English Rugby League teams must focus on their own personality, character and values that instilled such fear into Kangaroo touring sides in the 70s and 80s, and stop trying to copy or follow the Kangaroos and NRL tactically and strategically, so too must it forget about following, copying, deriding or comparing itself to other sports. In the future it should just concentrate on the game’s unique strengths and qualities that have endeared the sport to elite sportsmen and women and sports lovers the world over.

I’m extremely passionate about the game and where it can rise to in this country and have some very strong thoughts on ways to get it there, which I look forward to discussing more in the coming weeks.

Damian Irvine is the former chairman of NRL club Cronulla Sharks and achieved the ‘impossible’ by saving them financially and leaving the club as one of Sydney’s richest. Now in Football, the Australian was named Best Marketer in UK Football in 2014 while at Notts County and is the UK’s leading rugby league consultant to chairmen, commercial managers and CEOs. Irvine currently works as the Head of Commercial Activities at Wycombe Wanderers and can be found on Twitter at @damianirvine