Rugby Union clubs in England are dying. It turns out spending yourself into oblivion isn’t a smart way to ensure your survival.
With English Rugby Union now openly talking about the need for major changes to the structure of their sport, the business model, and rationalisation of clubs, it begs the question, could the RFL take advantage of the situation?
Now keep in mind that looking to make money off the back of ventures that have lost MASSIVE amounts of money never turns out well. The RFL, if they had the money, can’t just go into areas that have lost Rugby Union clubs, set up teams there and magically expect to get a different outcome.
They should however look to get a foot in the door, particularly in the south of England, and at the very least look to win the PR battle by offering top level club content at an affordable price, and welcome “rugby” fans who have lost their clubs recently.
The RFL has one major advantage over Rugby Union in England. It is much cheaper to own and run a Super League club that it is a “Premiership” Rugby Union club.
Would it hurt the RFL to play some Super League games at the former home stadiums of now deceased Rugby Union clubs? The opportunity to gauge the interest in the areas that just lost a club, put on a show for the locals, and at worst use these games to show players and fans that there is an alternative out there if they still want some “Rugby” to play and follow.
Should the RFL look for investors, particularly from Australia, in an effort to finally get a presence in London for Super League that is stable and sustainable? Would it be the worst thing in the world for the RFL to go to the NRL, or one of the stronger NRL clubs, and look to make a deal to have a new London club created?
Getting the right venue has always been the biggest problem for Rugby League in London, and I won’t pretend to suggest that I know the right answer to this problem, but surely in a country with more stadiums than pubs there is the right sized venue with modern facilities, one that is well places and that can become a permanent home for London Rugby League that can be utilised.
Would the NRL be open to backing such a venture? Would an NRL club? Could you see the Penrith Panthers using a London Rugby League club as an outlet for their overabundance of first grade quality lower grade players?
Should the RFL look to continue with Magic Weekend, hosting it in London in 2024, and bringing the show down to people who have all lost their clubs? Give discounted tickets to people that can show they were members, or are current members, of Rugby Unions teams in the south. Open the game up to a new audience, and instead of playing gate keeper or rubbishing these potential customers, welcome them into the Rugby League family and just give them a chance to see if they like what they see.
If we don’t see a full set of winter internationals this year, why couldn’t the RFL set up a few Rugby League 9’s tournaments? Play one in the north of England, one in London and one in France. Offer places in the tournament to Super League clubs, Championship clubs, French Rugby League clubs…and dare I say it, a couple of Rugby Union clubs as well.
There are opportunities there for Rugby League if the game is ambitious enough to take advantage of them. Avoiding making the same mistake Rugby Union has made, or Rugby League itself has made is the past is crucial, but there is a number of fan bases right now that are very sad, very disillusioned with their sport, and who are ready to be captured by something different, but strangely familiar as well.
Let’s see what the RFL does with this opportunity.