Connect with us

Rugby League News

‘There’s no stars’ – Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn on why Rugby League can’t crack the mainstream

Many fans will argue that Rugby League doesn’t have the reach that it should for how brilliant a sport it is and boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has claimed that is due to a major problem in “promoting stars” which negatively impacts participation.

Hearn is the face of MatchRroom Promotions, a company set up by his father that initially dominated in sports such as darts and snooker, but it was Eddie who took the reins of the boxing promotion in the late noughties.

Tasked with making boxing a mainstream sport once again he masterfully built around British fighters such as Carl Froch and Tony Bellew before landing the golden goose in Anthony Joshua.

Since ‘AJ’s’ ascent in the sport, the sport itself has ascended to the top table with huge pay-per-view audiences occurring regularly with events happening almost every weekend too, so what would marketing genius like Eddie Hearn do with rugby league?

Hearn spoke with Gabby Logan on The Sports Agent podcast where he explained the similarities between rugby league and boxing, as well as where our great game is falling behind.

“I couldn’t name three rugby league players” – The glaring problem that the sport faces

BBC Challenge Cup coverage - Super League Wigan Warriors rugby league

Credit: Imago Images

Some could argue Hearn perhaps got lucky with Anthony Joshua in terms of this brilliant fighter landing in his lap straight off Olympic success. Others would point to the endless promotion of AJ and the huge gamble taken by Hearn, Matchroom and Sky Sports when they paid massive money to bring over Charles Martin to land AJ his first world title belt.

The talent was there, but the marketing arm of Matchroom as directed by Eddie Hearn made a talented fighter into a superstar, and that is the downfall of rugby league according to the marketing master.

“We’ve often been asked to become involved in rugby, particularly in league,” Hearn revealed.

He first spoke of the values that rugby league shares being very similar to those in boxing, explaining: “A lot of the things that boxing is built off, so is rugby. So one of the reasons we push grassroots boxing so much, as someone who boxes an amateur, I send my daughters to my amateur boxing club is because it instils so much, so many of the qualities that I think are needed in life and rugby is actually a mirror of that.

“Discipline, respect, teamwork, individuality, physical health, mental health, winning, losing, all of these things but I think as a commercial property, one of the biggest problems I feel with participation, particularly, and this stems across what we discussed earlier, which is coverage, profile, ambassadors and superstars of the sport.”

Ultimately though the sport of rugby league falls shirt in terms of the mainstream knowledge around its star players. Would the average man or woman on the street know who Jack Welsby is?

Hearn continued: “When I sat down with the rugby league teams and Ralph Rimmer and those guys, I said, honestly, I follow all sport. I could not tell you, not even half a dozen league players, three league players I’d say Ellery Hanley, Jamie Peacock, Andy Farrell.

“That’s what I remember from the Challenge Cup days on BBC and growing up. They’re not promoting the stars, having ambassadors. I’ve seen the growth in boxing, I mean no fighter in the history of the sport has elevated growth like Anthony Joshua in the UK, obviously winning the Olympics in London 2012, but in terms of participation.

“I feel like there’s such a big mirror between participation at grassroots and commercial success of the sport. I think it comes down to the fact that I don’t think that enough people are playing, I don’t think they’re motivated by the stars of the sport.”

Obviously, IMG have since taken over the marketing side of the sport and there have been improvements such as the TV deal but further work needs to be done to push the players, not just the product. Fans engage with the stories and development of their star players, just as boxing was taken on the wild ride that was Anthony Joshua’s ascent to World Champion, rugby league needs to invest in making its stars household names.



  1. Graham Timewell

    April 2, 2024 at 6:19 pm

    The thing about rugby league is that it’s 95%northern, people won’t get involved with league as it’s seen as a closed shop belonging to the flat cap brigade, it’s not attractive enough to throw lots of money at it although it’s the greatest game,the rfl to a greater degree are to blame for this as not having a wider vision, in Australia it’s the number one sport, but that has alot to do with the weather and the vision of their ruling body

  2. frank

    April 2, 2024 at 8:19 pm

    rugby league has teams all over the country and in france so not sure about 95% the problem is with the rubbish yorkshire “leaders” that have been dragging the game down for 30 years get rid of these and get some proper business men in charge and we might be halfway there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must See

More in Rugby League News