Page XIII editorial, first published 3rd Feb 2012 in Rugby League World, Issue 371 (March 2012)
Thank goodness that’s over! The off-season can be dispiriting at the best of times, but when the reputation of the sport is being dragged through the mud with unsavoury revelations about players’ behaviour or backroom misdemeanours (or both, in the case of Gleeson-gate), it’s harder to remind yourself why you love the game when you can’t just turn on the TV to watch a match or head out to your local ground to shout off the frustration.
Aside from raging at the injustice that the only time a major newspaper like the Mail On Sunday shows any interest in Rugby League is when they have an excuse to trash it, we have to accept that such bad press is inevitable if players and clubs provide the ammunition.
DEAL OR NO DEAL
There have been some interesting and unexpected decisions emanating from RFL HQ recently. Firstly, the choice of Stobart as Super League title sponsors in exchange for advertising on a fleet of branded lorries travelling the nation’s highways, rather than opting for the ready cash offered by a betting company.
Personally, I don’t have any prudish objections to seeing Rugby League associated with sports betting. It’s a free country and betting is not illegal. The Super League Handbook we’re giving away with this issue of Rugby League World would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship we have received from William Hill. Ultimately, the game’s image depends on the behaviour of its players, administrators and supporters, not the business of its sponsors, as the Mail On Sunday painfully reminded us at a time when Super League had no sponsor at all.
With the British economy teetering on the edge of another recession, it’s a brave choice to turn down a cash injection of any kind. Only time will tell if the intangible benefits of advertising via Stobart lorries will produce a better return in increased awareness over the next three years. It won’t do any harm, but how will its impact actually be measured? Stobart have certainly got themselves a great deal. It won’t do their own brand any harm to be associated with Super League.
OUT OF THE BLUE
The other suprising announcement to emerge from the RFL was the news that they had bought the lease of Odsal Stadium from Bradford Bulls. There is a lot of speculation – and an inevitable degree of criticism – surrounding the news. Could it herald the eventual and oft-stalled redevelopment of the stadium and its possible use by the RFL as a national base for the sport?
It’s often been argued that Rugby League suffers from not having its own permanent base to stage major events, such as that enjoyed by the RFU at Twickenham. I can see the logic of that position. I held it myself for long enough. But even though I was born and raised in Bradford and still live barely a stones throw from Odsal, my worry now would be that a sport that has been trapped for so many years by the geography of its origins – the ‘northern’ game – ultimately wouldn’t be doing its public image any favours to confine too many of its major events to one particular city in the north. If the aim of the sponsorship deal with Stobart is to spread the Super League brand further afield, it would send a confusing message if the sport were seen to be pulling up the drawbridge in other ways.
Congratulations are due to former Crusaders and Wales Rugby League player Gareth Thomas, who took part in the latest series of the ‘reality TV’ show Big Brother on Channel 5. Not only did he make it to the final (finishing third overall), he earned the admiration of all his fellow housemates and managed to retain his dignity too. No mean feat.
John Drake, Editor