Trying Again

Preparations for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup are well underway with the Rugby Football League (RFL), the governing body of the sport in Britain and Ireland and hosts, aiming to put right what it got wrong 12 years ago.


In July 2009, following a twoday meeting of Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), it was decided that England and Wales would host the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. The event was last held in 2008 by Australia, and prior to that in 2000 by Great Britain, Ireland and France in a tournament that many would rather forget. The announcement that rugby league’s showcase event would once again return to the shores of the sport’s creation offers a shot at redemption for the Rugby Football League (RFU), governing body of the game in Britain and Ireland, and the sport as a whole. “I think that the international federation, who are effectively the rights holder of the                       decade,” says RFL chief executive Nigel Wood, with reference to how the once beleaguered organisation has come on leaps    !   ! since the turn of the millennium. “In the late 1990s the RFL had got itself         •  1  $4&  ” ! 3    3   %1 “probably culminated during the World Cup of 2000.” Preparations for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup are well underway with the Rugby Football League (RFL), the governing body of the sport in Britain and Ireland and hosts, aiming to put right what it got wrong 12 years ago. TRYING AGAIN By Tom Love Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood expects the 2013 World Cup to reflect a decade of growth in the sport FEATURE | RUGBY 68 | The tournament 12 years ago had what Wood calls “a perfect storm of issues” from a poor ticketing, venue and marketing strategy to bad weather to a schedule “that was very ambitious to the point of being reckless.” The nadir of a wholly damp affair was a group stage game at Cardiff’s Stradey Park between Wales and a Lebanon team made up of Australians of Lebanese origin which attracted just 1,497 spectators. ’       $4&  the end of 2001 peaked at just under UK£2 million,” Wood says of what followed. “I remember the exact number vividly – it was UK£1,976,000. Back then international rugby league was at a pretty low ebb and so I was recruited from one of the professional clubs to come and help sort the mess out,” recalls Wood, who previously served as chief executive of Super League team Halifax. One of a number of individuals brought in to remould and reshape the RFL following the near bankruptcy that resulted from a poorly managed and ill-fated World Cup event, Wood explains that through “radically overhauling the form of governance within the sport by introducing an independent board of directors” and the recruitment of former tennis professional Richard Lewis as the organisation’s then chief executive, the RFL was, somewhat remarkably, able to turn around its fortunes   ’    • within the space of two years. “From there on in we’ve been constantly ! %%3    ! that’s not necessarily in order to build up reserves or balance sheet strength, because whatever we generate either gets distributed amongst the professional game or spent on behalf of the community game,” says Wood, explaining how having overcome its post- World Cup debt crisis, the RFL has been a driving force behind the expansion of rugby league both at home and within the northern hemisphere as a whole. “Central to our strategic objectives over the past ten years has been to broaden and deepen international rugby league and over the course of the last decade the RFL in particular has     %       in an organisation called the Rugby League European Federation.” The federation, effectively rugby league’s version of soccer’s Uefa, was founded in 2003 and according to 1   !!  %   ” “There is now rugby league played, it has to be said at various different levels, in about 20 different European countries,” he says with some pride. Looking to the future Wood believes that together with the “professionally organised and commercially successful” 2004 and 2005 Tri-Nations international tournaments, organised by the RFL, and the organisation’s 3    !  Europe-wide propagation of rugby league, a sport which has traditionally struggled for a global footprint, that ultimately convinced the RLIF that “this is an important part of the world where rugby league is cherished and that the RFL is a capable and competent host of what will be the biggest World Cup that the sport has ever produced.” Deliberately sandwiched between the 2012 Olympic Games in London – an event that 1   3’        pad” for rugby league’s showcase tournament – the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and 2015 Rugby World Cup in a ten-year period that has been referred to as a ‘golden decade of sport’ for the UK, the 2013 Rugby League World Cup will be marked against other world-class sporting events. Wood, the chief executive of its organising committee, is well aware of the responsibility that now lies on his shoulders. “Hosting the World Cup is the biggest opportunity to increase the national 3        highlight to be tournament director of something of this magnitude. Rugby league is blessed to have a number of people working within it who just think it’s the best sport in the world and now we’ve all got a responsibility to try and persuade the rest of world that it’s a good a sport as it is.” Though a multitude of factors were to blame for the disappointing 2000 World Cup, central to the event’s failure was its inability to attract spectators in anywhere near the kind of numbers necessary to be commercially successful. It is a failure that, according to Wood, can be attributed to the overly ambitious selection of matchday venues in areas with little-to-no rugby league heritage – an issue that remains contentious. “That will be our biggest challenge, making sure that we’re always playing to full or nearly full stadia and making sure that the stadia we use are appropriately distributed National Rugby League (NRL) chief executive David Gallop describes international rugby league as “the one area which has taken longer than others to get back on track.” Speaking on a trip to London for November’s Four Nations tournament Gallop, a board member of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), insists that attitudes are changing in Australia. “The key to it in my observation is how much our leading players like playing in the national jersey,” he says. “For a while, sort of ten years ago, the State of Origin was almost seen as the pinnacle of our code, but now I sense from our players that coming on a tour like this is something that they see as a great place to have reached in their career. The opportunity to play at Wembley during the 2011 Four Nations tournament is something that they are talking about as a really important part of their football career. That bodes well for the 2013 World Cup. “There’s a lot of great tradition and nostalgia in our game about Kangaroo tours of Great Britain and our players have tapped into that over the last ten years. With the 2013 World Cup coming up there is an opportunity to continue            rugby league. While we may not have the number of countries actually calling themselves rugby league-playing nations as rugby union has got, what we do have is an opportunity to produce quality across our whole World Cup. Thus far, the 2013 Rugby League World Cup looks like it’s % %   “• FEATURE | RUGBY The Australian view on international rugby league SportsPro Magazine | 69 around the country.” Like those responsible for the World Cup of 2000, Wood and the rest of the organising committee at the RFL are       !  between expanding the sport’s national and international footprint and catering to the game’s traditional heartland, which at present lies almost exclusively in northern England. Wood explains: “It’s about striking the right balance between making this a national celebration whilst at the same time respect the areas where it has over 100 years of history. There still is a need to embrace the widest possible footprint but we must do it in a controlled way.” To that effect, Wood, mindful not to ignore the mistakes of the past, reveals that the organising team have “tried to do things slightly different this time around.” The change that Wood is referring to regards the comprehensive venue selection process through which cities and towns across England and Wales have, since October 2010, been bidding for inclusion in the tournament. “It’s without doubt the single biggest change to how the tournaments were run in the past,” states Wood. “The relationship between the competition and the potential locations is very different in 2011 than it was in 1999 when our predecessors were undertaking a similar task. By running and undertaking a bidding process for rights to stage matches or host teams or training camps, then we’re actually getting the various towns and cities the chance to put their hands up and say, ‘We want to be a part of this.’ We want to share the burden of promoting the World Cup amongst the widest portfolio of partners and thanks to the bidding process we’re delivering awareness to the event already.” As many as 34 different cities and towns submitted bids for the rights to either stage matches or host teams or training camps. 18 were ultimately selected at the end of November, including venues in Wales, Ireland and France, with six more venues       %  ”4  details were expected in January. With the qualifying stages of the tournament ending in late October – the US securing the last of 14 places with 40-4 win over Jamaica – the early preparations for the event, with 18 months until kick-off, have been undeniably impressive. “The build-up to the tournaments is something that rugby league historically hasn’t done well in the past in either hemisphere,” Wood says. “The fundamental difference between 2013 and 2000 is that we are ahead of the curve. Our planning for the tournament is far in advance of anything they [the previous management team] were capable of doing in previous years.” Indeed, so far in advance are the RFL’s preparations that Wood, speaking in October, is hopeful that “by the end of the year we’ll be able to announce, ‘These are the matches, these are the venues and these are the kick off times.’” With planning for the tournament well underway and in good health, attentions at the RFL, as the sole organiser of the tournament, have now turned to attracting commercial partners. “Certainly when we made the application to stage the tournament we were fairly clear about what we thought the tournament was capable of delivering through the turnstile and through broadcast and commercial fees.” And, %       3 have some “real strong-booted sponsors” present come kick-off, Wood adds that the revenue streams generated through ticketing and the sale of broadcasts rights are where the tournament is expected to deliver the %%     ”’“ 3  we achieve attendance-wise, the broadcast rights will probably exceed ticketing revenue but not necessarily; they’ll probably be much of a muchness,” he says. “Those %         $&<4 although we are fairly clear about what we’re looking to do, which, broadly speaking, is to outperform the previous World Cup by between a third and a half. “One has to remember that all of the revenue generated in excess of the costs will @3          ”   CC  !    the RFL is concerned. Our return on investment will be legacy issues such as awareness, participation and the growth of relationships with local authorities and commercial partners.” To that end, over the course of the next 18 months the RFL plans to roll out some %   % !  3  involve participation within the sport. “I’m talking about participation in its widest sense –   %   %    %  well as the creation of new clubs where the game has traditionally not been as strong. We’re very aware that rugby league has got   ! !    3 %  certain parts of the country but it’s still one of the best-kept secrets in British sport.” With regards to making that secret public, Wood explains that, although not many people are aware of it yet, the men’s tournament will be just one in a suite of four  1        of the summer in the build up to the event itself in October and November. “There will be a Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup, a Women’s Rugby League World Cup, the Students Rugby League World Cup and an armed services or uniformed Rugby League World Cup. Come the kick-off to the tournament there will be no excuse for anybody on this island not to be aware of the sport of rugby league in 2013. “If the Rugby League World Cup can at least for a month elevate the sport of rugby league to a different level of awareness around the national psyche then it will have achieved its objective,” Asked what will be the measure of whether or not the RFL’s plans have come to fruition, Wood says, “I think we will know what people have thought of the tournament by its vibrancy and media breakthrough.  > !        undeniable – the athletes will not let us down. What we have to ensure is that the look and the feel and the sound and the smell of the tournament is everything that we want it to be. However, the hard-nosed bottom line is     said it would when we bid for it. That will be  “The fundamental difference between 2013 and 2000 is that we are ahead of the curve.” 67 2012 02 Tom Love {filedir_26}SportsProMag_issue40_67-69.pdf [26381] [sportspro_february_2012] SportsPro February 2012