The season opener between Leigh and Batley gave us the first taste of Premier Sports’ Championship coverage for this season, and on the whole it was a success.
The subscription channel has taken on the highest level of the game outside of Super League after SKY Sports opted to drop the Championships from its coverage at the end of last season.
And Premier got one up on their more illustrious rivals with their highest profile innovation on opening night – the facility to listen to the video referee while he is making decisions.
While SKY have been mucking about with the nonsense that is the margin-meter, Premier Sports have clearly dug deep to find something that will add to their coverage. It certainly got some usage too, with Ian Smith being called in to action to explain a few decisions on a number of occasions.
The half hour build up included a number of insightful interviews, a far cry from the five minute “hurry up let’s get the match on” that SKY used to afford their Championship coverage. It feels like Premier Sports cares about the game outside of Super League, and it is something that the Championships certainly needs – more attention and more respect.
There were a few nervous moments from presenters and reporters, but these will be ironed out as the season goes on and coverage becomes more familiar.
Primary commentator Dave Woods was missing in action for the first game – he was otherwise engaged working on the Manchester United Europa League action for Channel 5 – but Ian Ramsdale and co-commentator Brian Noble worked well together throughout.
RFL media manager John Ledger got his face on the telly, conducting the draw for the quarter-finals of the Northern Rail Cup, which ironically pulled out a repeat of the live match – Leigh v Batley – and it will no doubt be the leading contender for Premier’s first live televised cup clash.
Premier Sports pride themselves on providing excellent coverage of niche leagues and competitions, and they have done that with great effect in Conference Football this season.
It was simple yet innovative and effective. As well as Ramsdale and Noble in the commentary box, there was Natalie Quirk as pitchside reporter, and you knew where you stood with everybody. Compare that to SKY Sports, who at the moment appear to have more pundits than some Super League squads have quality players.
There was much criticism on the Love Rugby League Facebook page over the fact that the channel costs £7.99 a month (or £79.99 for the full season), and that “they pay enough for their TV as it is”.
The simple fact is that nothing in life is free. SKY Sports is expensive, granted, but the rugby league that Premier Sports offers fans is a snip at that price. Not only that, but subscriptions earn the clubs money too.
Fans want the sport to improve and they want more coverage, in which case they need to put their money where their mouth is and help support it. The alternative to Premier Sports’ coverage was that Championship rugby league would have been lost from our screens altogether.
We’re looking forward to seeing more live action as the season unfolds, and hopefully some more innovation! Maybe showing more than one live Championship game a week might not be too far around the corner…