Rugby league’s crucial bookends
141 Have your say
Foundation rugby league countries England, Australia, and New Zealand are receiving timely good news that augurs well for the game’s future.
Starting with England, at its annual general meeting in Hull, a Rugby Football League (RFL) Governance Review prepared by eminent sports lawyer and RFL Interim Chairman Maurice Watkins, concluded that the sport’s system of governance was a model for other sports to follow.
Notably, a sport that is governed by a single unified leadership body with a majority of independent directors at the helm.
Some excellent facets to come out of RFL report include broadcast rights for the 2012-2016 period, and covering Super League, World Club Challenge, Challenge Cup, Championships and Northern Rail Cup, totalled a the sum of £135 million.
These rights were concluded with Sky, the BBC and Premier Sport.
Internationals were not included but it has already been released that the recent England v Exiles series brought in an extra £1.5 million.
In addition to the broadcast revenues, it has been reported that the RFL has received signiﬁcant levels of government funding for its work in both the development of elite athletes and increasing participation in the sport.
During the current funding cycle (1st April 2009 to 31st March 2013) the RFL will have received in excess of £27 million for this work. These funds are being used to deliver a number of programmes and capital costs, such as £3 million between 2009 and 2013 for the improvement of facilities at community rugby league clubs.
The RFL has also increased its turnover to an all-time high of £27.04 million in 2011 and recorded a pre-tax profit for the 10th successive year. This represents an 18.5 per cent increase on 2010 and allowed the RFL to increase hand-outs to clubs and other member organisations to a record £9.18 million.
There are hiccups, such as Bradford Bulls administration problems and the on-going competitive concern of the London Broncos, but already a group of prominent local Asian business people in Bradford want to buy the club and Odsal stadium.
London Broncos also secured a major national sponsor that could lead to a longer term agreement.
New Zealand, via the ownership of the New Zealand Warriors, also announced ground-breaking and exciting news for the code.
After the club’s board meeting, a busy press conference was told the Warriors would become “the best single sporting franchise in Australasia”, including a new elite academy aimed at fostering young talent and a new secondary schools championship in Auckland.
Other highlights included the formation of a Warriors Charitable Trust; the upgrading of training, sports science, medical, talent identification, IT and other team support facilities; improved membership offers to fans outside Auckland and in Australia; a significant involvement in grass roots rugby league; increased Vodafone Warriors merchandise range and the establishment of the club’s first Warriors shop; a commitment to Mt Smart Stadium increasing capacity between 40-60,000 plus an adjacent smaller stadium for local club rugby league and putting the ‘NZ’ in the Warriors by taking NRL ‘home’ matches to other regions of New Zealand including Dunedin, Christchurch and Hamilton in the South Island.
In Australia, the rumour mill over the new TV media broadcast deal is in overdrive.
Despite the split in opinion and agendas of reporting between the Fairfax media group and News Ltd, both organisations are now mentioning on a frequent basis a deal for the Australian rugby league Commission in the region of $1.15 billion dollars.
The broadcast deal aside, the NRL scene on-field is fantastic, TV ratings across the board are breaking records, new and old sponsors are aligning themselves to the game, and grassroots developments are being recognised.
For example, Learn Earn Legend! Ambassador Preston Campbell will join in London international sporting stars and officials from around the world at the Beyond Sport Federation Awards with the Australian Rugby League Commission a finalist for the prestigious International Governing Body of the Year Award.
The strengthening of the game in these traditional powerhouses of rugby league is timely for a sport that is experiencing encouraging growth in other regions. More so than ever, the leadership and economic strength of the game in Australia, New Zealand and England can have far-reaching effect for peripheral nations such as Wales, France, Serbia, Italy, the Pacific, and beyond.
Wales already has over 7,000 players at all levels playing the sport, France is looking at launching a professional summer competition involving soccer clubs Lens and Nantes, the former likely to host the France v Wales international in October.
The Pacific sees Fiji’s Vodafone expand rapidly with the league featuring regularly in the media, and Tonga’s domestic scene going from strength to strength. Jamaica play Canada this weekend in Toronto, and Lebanon make their debut tour to Canada as well.
Who would have thought?
The crescendo to all this will be the 2013 rugby league World Cup.