In a world of streaming giants, of social media influencers and the Metaverse (ask your kids), the traditional forms of communication and how we digest our entertainment and information has irreparably changed. Sport, which still remains at the fabric of our community in this country and many others, often echoes those changes.

Whether it’s a Sunday morning frost-bitten field in your local park or a Friday night under the lights at Headingley, what we witness on the pitch remains the same, intrinsically linked to the past and our present. Yet, how we promote sport, and in particular the great game of rugby league, is about to undergo the biggest transformation since Maurice Lindsay’s bright idea and the advent of the Super League era, pushed by Sky TV’s unquestionable early impact in those heady days of the early 1990s.

Super League 2.0 let’s call it, given IMG’s initial push for a name change for European rugby league’s premier competition appears to have been consigned to the discarded ideas bin alongside regional mergers, Calder and Humberside rugby league anyone?!

Those hardy souls long enough in the tooth like myself will be aware the next 13 words have been written too often before. We stand at the start of a bright new era for rugby league.

It’s true that we are about to enter what feels like a new era, yet it’s less of a statement and more of a mantra that can forever be associated with a sport that has continually tried to reinvent itself over the years. Whether it was the introduction of the Grand Final in 1998, expansion and licensing in the early 2010s, the introduction and then abolishment of the Super 8s, the split from the RFL and subsequent realignment, or the 10-year deal with IMG to rebrand and overhaul the sport, we’ve stood too many times at the start of the yellow brick road with dreams of reaching the Emerald City, only to get lost along the way.

That cannot happen again for the sake of the sport, for while the feeling of once again being on the cusp of something major is a familiar one, the landscape that awaits from the next leap means it will be into one much less familiar.

A sport built on the backbone of working class men and women, has relied upon the passion and income of many a working class town to prop it up through gate receipts, through sponsorship by local businesses, through fundraising, donations, shirt sales ad infinitum.

Those communities, hit as hard as anyone by the double whammy of the Covid pandemic and now the financial climate which is gripping, or should that be in some cases, crippling the country, means tough decisions need to be made for some on how they spend their disposable income.

Rugby league is a passion. No, it’s more than that, for some it’s the oxygen they need to really live at the end of the week. It’s the heartbeat of many a town and because of that the commitment from supporters remains steadfast, but the sport needs to ensure not only that the loyalty shown is rewarded on and off the field, but that it finds ways to engage a whole new generation when money and time are such rich commodities due to their sparseness.

With more entertainment options than you could ever need, Gen Z have not just the whole world to play in, but the digital one too. Tapping into that digital domain is an essential and logical step for rugby league. The sport of flat caps and Eddie Waring shouting ‘Up and Under’ has long since shook off that unwanted image, but still a new more relevant image fitting of 2024 is needed. Step forward IMG.

The global sports and culture promotions company appear to have done little since their much trumpeted entry into the sport two years ago. Now it’s time to see what they can really do.

A new television deal that means every single game will be broadcast on TV or live streamed this season is a hugely significant step forward for the sport. In a digital era, it’s where rugby league needs to position itself. More so, the ability to get almost real time clips of key incidents and eye-catching tries out on social media is almost as crucial. The suggestion is IMG will put the focus firmly on rugby league’s biggest asset, which has for too long been criminally undervalued, it’s players!

Creating heroes and role models beyond the streets of Castleford and Warrington is what the sport needs to properly grow, and through the digital approach rugby league can achieve that.

For some it may feel unnatural, but life is lived out on social media these days and if you’re not part of the zeitgeist, you’ll get left behind. IMG know this, rugby league now know this and as we stand at the start of a bright new era (see, I did it again), the 2024 season feels like an opportunity to ensure the wider viewing public soon know the importance and enjoyment of this sport too.

2024-02-12T10:40:40Z dg43tfdfdgfd