Wigan’s marketing director bows out of rugby league today admitting the sport is facing some big challenges over the coming years.
Simon Collinson has spent 13 years with Wigan and a previous five at all-conquering Bradford Bulls.
He is leaving the Warriors for an international marketing role with an American sports video analysis company.
And Collinson says Super League needs to “reinvigorate” itself if it is to grow and develop.
He said: “A challenge facing rugby league is one facing all sports – getting bums on seats. There will be continued challenges from other sports.
“When I started 18 years ago, darts, tennis and MMA weren’t what they are now, rugby union at club level wasn’t as big as it is now.
“But rugby league is almost where it was – treading water to an extent. And the biggest challenge for the sport is how to reinvigorate it. How to excite people.
“Rugby league is a great sport, Super League is a great competition – as close as it has ever been.
“It’s in a reasonable position, but the big challenge is what it can do to grow itself.
“There are some good people, good events, big clubs, and it feels as if we’re getting somewhere with the international game – but there just seems to be an apathy around the sport outside of Castleford and Hull at the moment.
“And there may not be an easy solution: it may be the structure of the competition, the impact of no reserve structure on player development, a need to work out a compromise on Magic Weekend which doesn’t distort the competition, creating Aussie Rules style pathways for new teams such as Toronto or Toulouse to enter the elite league... I think our future urgently needs mapping out so we can all see where we’re heading.”
Collinson says the growth of crowds, and the introduction of events such as the Big One, has given him the greatest satisfaction during his time at Wigan.
And he is confident the club is in a strong position which, he says, is partly due to the bold decisions to stage matches in London, in 2015, and Sydney next February.
“I started in 2004, and the year before Wigan had a crowd of less than 16,000 to play Saints on Good Friday at home. Now, it’s sold out every year,” he said.
“Wigan are in a good place, they’ve obviously got an unrivalled history and a great supporter-base.
“And commercially, they’re stronger than they ever have been.
“Taking a home game to London was a catalyst. I know some fans didn’t like it, but bigger picture, we’ve now got partnerships with npower, Red Bull, 188 Bet, Shearings, Sydney.com, etc...
“We need to act differently, think differently, push the boundaries – and that’s why these major brands want to partner with us rather than other clubs in other sports.
“The more money the club makes the more is reinvested, whether that’s into youth development, facilities, coaches, sports science, fan experience, which then translate to success on the pitch – it’s all intertwined. Most clubs don’t have one marquee player and we have two.
“The game in Sydney isn’t about developing rugby league there, it’s about developing Wigan rugby league there, generating income and giving our players and fans great life-experiences.”
Collinson says he is looking forward to watching Wigan as a fan – and not an employee – for the first time tonight, when Wigan face St Helens.
“I feel sad to be leaving, blessed to have spent so long in the sport and had the experience I’ve had, and excited about my new role,” he added.