Change is inevitable and that goes for Super league too, although some would argue that movement doesn’t come fast enough for meanest sport in the world. The coronavirus pandemic and social unrest across the globe has sped up the process of change in every industry and for sports that has been as much about seizing the moment as adapting to the times. With so much up in the air regarding the future of the 25 year-old SL here are five changes the league could slide in right now to help it survive another quarter century and beyond.
1. DITCH RELEGATION & PROMOTION
This is a topic that has only become more heated with the onset of the corona virus pandemic. For years players, officials and fans have debated the value of relegation and promotion as clubs struggle with finances, marketing and uncertainty caused by fears of dropping out and the perception it creates. By suspending relegation from the top tier Super league for five years it would allow clubs to gain some financial momentum, expand their fan base and grow the league. It would also allow teams to pursue bigger and more national/international marketing deals not tied to the league as a whole and the loss of revenue incurred when demoted. Promotion and relegation hasn’t helped SL reach the lofty heights it had hoped for when it launch in the 90’s, so what’s with the love affair? If anything its kept hard struck clubs in the peripheral mix instead and the most dangerous place to be as a sports league is stuck in the middle with most of your owners. Yes, this should be done with an eye towards abolishing relegation altogether, which leads us to the next big move Super League needs to make…
2. THE SUPER 16
Turn Super League into a 16-team league permanently. Take your time but start the clock on the aformentioned five-year countdown to help save the game. That’s enough time to see the effects of teams building better rivalries, attracting better players and amassing a concentration of stars unprecedented in Super League. There’s already been a steady stream of just past their prime footy superstars making their way over to the SL and a more dedicated effort would build on that momentum in front of better finances with better offers and attractive destinations. Make three divisions of four teams with an eye on an expansion wing that could include the Toronto, Catalans, New York and Ottawa or a second team from France. Create a new and improved London team. Combine the two Hull teams. Combine some more! Take the opportunity to strengthen the league before continuing to pander to a fan base shunning expansion and fighting for local pride. To survive the next quarter century SL has to move out of the hillsides and small town mentality and figure out a way to preserve the best parts of it while moving more confidently into the global market.
3. SHORTEN THE SEASON
Less is more and with attentions spans of your next wave of customers much shorter than the fans you are catering to now, a shorter season makes sense. Keep the Challenge Cup out of the way until after the season and have a couple of weeks where two games are played. Every sports season has its dog days and 10 months is way too long of a campaign to stay glued to. With such a long stretch covering SL through the stops and starts every other sports league it creates uneven viewership and too many chances for distraction. A tighter, more compact package would be best. At this point the long season feels like a cash squeeze, just as being one of the last leagues in the world to shut down due to the pandemic did. The reason NFL Sundays are such an event is because there are so few of them. Rugby league is a much different animal but it could take a few notes from the Turf Kings on how to better allocate funds.
4. CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS
Hold contract negotiations in the off-season only. The practice of negotiating with other teams and signing contracts with them during a season in which you are playing for another team is mind-blowing. Its one of the more confusing practices we’ve observed in sport and it makes absolutely no sense. It feels like with such a long season owners don’t want to battle the time crunch of having to deal with contracts in the SL’s short off-season and be bothered with, well, work. Not only is it another reason to shorten the schedule but also it speaks to an unwillingness to go double-time to make shit work better. It is an unneeded distraction while teams build bonds and play for championship glory and also compromises the competition. Say what you want about the “Gentleman’s Code” but if I’m a coach I don’t feel good about my player competing – or thinking of – against a team he just signed a boatload of money to play with in three months. How do you sell that to fans? Is their lack of protest indifference or ignorance? Can you imagine LeBron James telling the Lakers before the playoffs start that he just signed a contract to play with the New York Knicks after their season is over? Ri-di-cu-lous.
5. MAGIC WEEKEND MAKEOVER
Turn Magic Weekend into All-Star weekend. The league doesn’t always do the best job at pushing their game and this is a chance to do it proper. It’s a total no-brainer. Select 30 of the best players by engaging fans through interactive voting along with coaches selections. Have the two top vote getters select their teams based on the pool of voted in players and organize the weekend around an all-star game on Sunday. Precede it with two days of fan activities, expos, interactive events, player skills challenges and showcases with big name athletes and celebrities in attendance. Throw a concert. Have sponsorship parties galore. Make MAGIC. Inspire. The most successful sports leagues in the world do this as an essential way to sell their sport and SL’s signature weekend’s budget would be better spent profiling the game on another level. You can even up the ante by making the game worth something in the playoff picture or for duelling charities. This is can’t-lose marketing and instant cool points for an entity desperately in need of both.