It’s a sad truth that Rugby League isn’t a mainstream sport. In a crowded marketplace, it struggles to get anywhere near the attention it deserves from the media. Europe’s biggest competition is broadcast on a satellite channel, and for the majority of the country, the highlights are tucked away in the middle of the day when most people are working.
It’s also unfortunate that the start of this Super League season coincides with the first games of Rugby Union’s Six Nations, which means that the season launch has been completely overshadowed and will receive even less attention than usual.
Sadly, all this means it’s unlikely that people are going to come across Super League by accident. If Super League wants more people to watch the games on TV or, better still, go in person, then they have to go out and sell the game.
You’d think that this season of Super League should have been the easiest one to sell so far. England made the final of the Rugby League World Cup, which was shown on terrestrial TV and had a pretty good average viewing figures of 1.5m, which was a 22% audience share.
So, the audience is out there; the challenge now is to get those people who casually watched the final and convert them into regular Rugby League viewers. To do this they need to raise awareness that the new Super League season is starting. To do that, they needed an advert, and one was made.
Unfortunately, what was produced has, in my opinion, has massively fallen short of what was needed.
I get what the advert is trying to say. One of the qualities to admire in Rugby League is the athleticism and conditioning of the players; and to show that off they are comparing the Super League players’ fitness to that of two well-known Olympians. But to use that to sell the sport is just wrong.
The advert is really boring. It reminds me of one of those adverts for Lidl where they show someone their products aren’t as bad as they might think.
They’ve taken a fast-moving, vibrant sport, stripped all of the excitement out of it and turned it into a fitness test on a really cold day with the Brownlee brothers and four guys that very few people would recognise.
I don’t know if there are rights issues preventing them from showing any action, but if not it’s mystifying that you’d try and sell the competition without using any of the spectacular tries and big hits that make Rugby League so exciting.
If you want an example of how it should be done, look at the video CBS Sports produced for the opening of their NFL AFC Championship coverage. It’s the perfect mix of a dramatic monologue and action. Even if you don’t like American Football, if you saw that you’d probably get excited for that game.
I know Super League can’t afford anyone like John Malkovich, but surely they could have produced something similar?
That advert doesn’t even work as a promotion of Super League. How can you advertise a competition without once mentioning its name? Last year’s advert with Johnny Vegas wasn’t perfect, but at least you knew what it was for, as Super League was mentioned within the first two seconds; here it isn’t mentioned at all. If you asked someone who’s never seen Rugby League before what competition, or even what sport, does that advertise, would they know?
What’s been made is a video for existing fans. If you’re the kind of person who knows who Kallum Watkins, Mike McMeeken, Ben Currie and George Williams are, as none of them get introduced in the video; then you’re probably not the kind of person who needs an advert reminding them that the season is about to begin.
Normally, getting the advert wrong wouldn’t be a big deal. However, this season it was more important than ever to get it right as this season represented a golden opportunity to capitalise on the success England had in the World Cup and the dramatic end to last season by bringing new fans to the sport. More fans mean more media attention, which in turn means more sponsorship and more money in the sport, which is what it desperately needs.
Unfortunately, bad marketing means that none of that is likely to happen, and once again Rugby League faces an uphill struggle to get people’s attention.