It’s widely acknowledged that media coverage of rugby league isn’t great. The game needs more promotion and bigger attendances and, in order to get those, the game needs more exposure. Only last week Regan Grace, St Helens’ Wales international winger, said he wasn’t aware of rugby league when he was growing up, only watching his first game in the 2013 World Cup. Maybe this is slightly tongue in cheek – who knows – but it does highlight the lack of attention the game has outside of the heartlands. This is why slow expansion is a good thing, but the media doesn’t need to do anything slowly – it could start supporting rugby league in a huge way at the drop of a hat. Sponsorship deals, TV rights, putting programmes on nationally at prime time.
But what have the BBC decided to do with England’s World Cup opener against Australia next Friday morning? Yes, they have put it on BBC 2 so as to safeguard the apparent crown jewel that is a Homes Under the Hammer repeat. While everybody can get BBC 2 so can still watch it, what does that say about how the BBC regards the sport? Live sport with England against the best team in the world and it isn’t on the premier channel. It’s a shame, but it’s not exactly shocking. The BBC shows the Super League Show early afternoon in the north but in the middle of the night elsewhere – if at all – and it hasn’t been updated for years. The same studio, largely the same guests and nothing for a neutral to get gripped by in the coverage. As for commentary, the fact they use one bloke for both codes of rugby says it all – Jonathan Davies is trotted out on the rare occasions that the BBC cover any live rugby league whereas they could very easily get someone more associated with the sport and to offer a different voice. Dave Woods is a good lead for the sport on the BBC and his insight is often valuable. He is definitely someone the organisation need to be at the forefront if the sport is to get more exposure.
Sky Sports are slowly starting to improve their coverage – getting rid of the against Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson was the first and getting rid of Eddie Hemmings and Phil Clarke is next – neither have offered anything new for years. It seems that the media coverage of the sport is stuck in time and doesn’t seem willing to try to modernise coverage. This is a huge shame as, in my opinion, rugby league is a brilliant spectator sport which, given exposure, would draw thousands to both their screens and grounds to watch it.