Wigan Warriors- Talking Rugby: The sport needs to do more to push itself to a bigger audience and Euro 2022 should be the blueprint
The Covid-19 pandemic was a very challenging time for the sport, but it could just be the start of the battle.
A few weeks ago Wigan Warriors’ Willie Isa spoke about what rugby league should be doing to push its boundaries.
He spoke passionately how more people could be introduced to it by advertising the positives that aren’t mentioned enough.
Of course, this year’s World Cup provides an excellent opportunity to put the sport on the map, which certainly has to be taken with both hands.
The organisers should take inspiration from this summer’s Women’s Euros and the atmosphere that has created.
While not every game has been entirely sold out, they have all been fantastic spectacles.
It’s been great to see fans getting behind different countries.
For example, at Leigh Sports Village, there was an army of people wearing orange ahead of a match between the Netherlands and Portugal.
It was like nothing the stadium has probably seen before.
From personal experience, games in Rotherham had a similar vibe, where there were plenty of families in attendance.
A lot of the people were probably first time viewers from the stands, which is simply fantastic.
Even the branding inside the stadiums were top notch, and created that unique tournament feel.
The atmosphere was similar to that of a T20 Blast cricket game, with it just being an all round great vibe, feeling like a party and a celebration.
This month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will no doubt provide more of the same as well, due to the event always forging people’s interest in new sports.
Rugby league needs to tap into the same market if the World Cup is going to be a success.
Some of the host stadiums are big, and ambitious, so everything possible must be done to attract huge crowds.
That must mean targeting people from across the country.
For England’s opening game against Samoa at St James’ Park, it just can’t just be regular fans making the trip up to Newcastle; spectators from the North East need to be in attendance as well.
It needs to be the same for every venue outside of the traditional areas.
It’s no lie to say rugby league is genuinely a good product, but not enough is done with it.
Too many people from outside its bubble haven’t really been presented with enough evidence to give it a proper chance.
If you look at the NRL and see how big that is in Australia, it shows the levels Super League should be aiming for.
Of course, there is a difference in cultures and football is England’s national sport, but that’s not to say rugby can’t have a big stage too.
If the World Cup can get new fans into the stadiums then it could be a huge turning point.
It would provide an opportunity for people to see what rugby league is about, and could definitely attract a new younger audience.
In his press conference a few weeks ago, Isa said: “We are very accessible as professionals and first team players. If you look at any other sports in England, you don’t see the same fan interaction. That’s the beauty of rugby.
“We should scream about that kind of stuff, I’m not kidding you. That’s what we should be writing about.
“It should get down to London. I’m not really happy when people say it's just a northern game. We need to do more to advertise. We can all do our bit.”
Euro 2022 can be deemed a success for what it has achieved in the tournament, but the next step will be to ensure the legacy and the growth of women’s football continues.
Rugby will face the exact same challenge.
The showpiece event has to be the start of something, not the climax.
Steps must be taken to reach out into new areas.
Somewhere down the line, it would be fantastic to see Super League expand as a competition.
Introducing more teams from different areas would be a fantastic move, and would give the sport more of a platform.
We can’t get ahead of ourselves and believe rugby league can be an instant hit in brand new areas, but it could grow in places where it already has a footing.
For example, places like York and Newcastle seem to have good foundations in place to be future Super League teams, especially with the stadiums they’ve got.
Similar to Sheffield, if they could get more funding.
Introducing top level English rugby to these areas would do the world of good, and they could be great additions to the competition.
Of course, more work would need to be done on their structures before that time, but if they could make it work it would benefit the whole sport.
Furthermore, it would be important to modernise the teams already in Super League.
At the weekend there were a lot of comments on the state of Wakefield’s Belle Vue.
For a long time work has been needed there, and they are now investing in a new stand.
More will probably also need to be done, as while some people may say it’s a “classic” ground, others would call it “outdated.”
They’re not the only ones who can be labelled with this in the top two divisions, and obviously they can only do so much with their budgets.
It would be great to see more money pumped into rugby to allow these clubs to improve their facilities, because it would simply benefit everyone.
Hopefully the World Cup will be a starting point of a new era of English rugby, because it’s a chance for the good work already being done to be amplified.
It’s been a great summer of sport on home soil, so here’s hoping for a strong winter too.