Stuck in a time warp, time to modernise
Every time Puff Daddy's Come With Me plays at a NRL match, I cringe. This same pre-match warm up song has been playing for over ten years.
It actually plays as a metaphor for the game. That is, rugby league can sometimes feel like its stuck in repetition, the old ways. It is a sport that needs to evolve and modernise.
It's not the game they play in heaven, and its players off field behaviour is not perfect. But, as a spectacle and sport product, rugby league can soar.
A new administration is in charge, so where is the game headed? Can this great product create new audiences and expand its market share?
With finals football around the corner, it's timely to apply the marketing microscope to this year's season. NRL expert Nick Tedeschi provides his views.
Unafraid to voice opinion, Nick Tedeschi is among the most important rugby league thinkers in Australia. He is a rugby league writer and author of the annual Punters' Guide to the NRL Season. You can also hear Tedeschi on William Hill's podcast.
Edward Crossin: How can the NRL better market its product?
Nick Tedeschi: The game needs to make the week in and week out of the competition more of an event.
It needs to improve its in-stadium experience by a long, long way. It also needs to do a better job of explaining the game and showcasing the star athletes to non-traditional areas.
Perth is an area with high upside but they seem to get just a game or two every year. Taking Origin there is a big deal.
The NRL needs to also look at taking the game back to its simple roots and removing the terribly confusing rule book and interpretations layered on top that infuriate fans everywhere.
Edward: What can rugby league in Australia learn from other countries and their respective sports?
Nick: Rugby League lets itself down with its professionalism and that flows to the lack of structure. There should be a draft in the NRL. There should be proper pathways.
The Dally M Medal has little public credit because votes are revealed whereas the Brownlow is a huge deal in the AFL.
Edward: How can rugby league become an Australian sport, rather than NSW and QLD dominant?
Nick: It needs to invest in non-traditional areas. That means expansion but it also means getting into schools, ensuring broadcasters show games live, getting stars to promote matches.
The AFL have done a wonderful job in making Australia think their code is the national game. Showing some political influence also wouldn’t hurt. The AFL are very good at receiving government funding.
The NFL are the masters at making games events. The NBA markets is stars and is happy to have its vision used anywhere. And every sport in the world provides a better stats package than the NRL.
Edward: NRL scheduling around the State of Origin continues to be a talking point and blight on the game. What’s the solution?
Nick: The solution is the introduction of a knockout cup similar to the Challenge Cup in the UK and the FA Cup in soccer.
It means no Origin player will miss a premiership match. It gives broadcasters content. It gives clubs an opportunity at another bit of silverware and a pay cheque. It gives a boost to the mid-season malaise.
Edward: This year’s State of Origin series had the second half still in play after 10pm. What’s your view on this?
Nick: It is not ideal and it is hard to cop when the game consistently kicks off 10-15 minutes after schedule. This does not happen in any other sport.
Edward: What’s your longer term view on the appeal of State of Origin?
Nick: Origin will always appeal and particularly so when Queensland are doing well.
It is close to the most watched sporting event in Australia. It dominates talk for a good portion of the season. It creates so many memorable contests. It will always be a centrepiece of Rugby League. The NRL know it’s a cashcow and won’t let it be anything but.
Edward: Fox Sports has ramped up its investment in rugby league this year. What’s your view on their coverage in comparison with Channel Nine?
Nick: I will never watch Nine again! Their coverage has been exceptional. They have better callers, better analysts, better magazine shows. They respect the intelligence of fans. They invest in the game. Just look at the fun shown on Retro Round. A dedicated NRL show next season should take their coverage to the next level.