Rugby League in the UK is currently in the midst of a crisis at grassroots level, participation in the sport is at an all time low. Recent reports suggest that participation has dropped 39.07% in the past 10 years alone, this figure is not only shocking but ultimately worrying in a lot of respects. It’s widely recognised that the reason we struggle more on the international scene than the likes of Australia is down to the talent pools available to pick from. Figures publicly obtainable suggest the sport has 248,645 registered players. When compared against Australia, that figure is much higher, coming in at 466,182.

For a person with so much love for the sport, I find it terrifying. There have been numerous articles written over the past few years that suggest Rugby League in England is sleepwalking in to oblivion, despite the fact TV viewer numbers are on the rise. Now, I’m not one to listen to such sensationalist journalism – yes there are clubs that have struggled in the English leagues over the past few years, most notably Bradford Bulls, but to suggest the sport is soon going to vanish is nonsense.

The most recent article I read on this topic is called “English Rugby League Is Using Its Dying Breath To Criticise How The NRL Runs Itself”. Produced by well-known ‘dude that writes about Rugby League’ – League Freak. In this piece he criticises the RFL for putting on events such as the World Club Series and also criticises people like Gary Hetherington for blasting Australian teams over their lack of interest in the World Club Series.

The points made are very true, and very valid – the World Club Series takes place during the NRL pre-season, this must be reasonably disruptive to the 2 or 3 teams expected to fly out to the UK for a couple of, essentially meaningless games. He also goes on to bash the RFL and their running of the sport, his points aren’t ones I necessarily agree with. However, I do have a bone to pick with the RFL.

Support for smaller content producers

I struggled with this headline, although now Rugby League Hub is technically producing content, up until the past 2 weeks I was running nothing more than an aggregation app built for people on Android devices.

Let’s talk figures and statistics

Everybody loves statistics right? Over the past few years I’ve been continually monitoring and logging statistics within the app about the general use and audience. Here are some figures for you to ponder over:

  • At time of writing, Rugby League Hub has collected 107,880 articles covering Rugby League.
  • The app now covers a rather astonishing 12 leagues / competitions. Number 12 being the World Cup held later this year.
  • The Rugby League Hub app has been installed on over 6,000 devices.
  • On an average night when there are fixtures being played, Rugby League Hub sees nearly 2,000 screen views.
  • In the past 2 years the app has been accessed around 60,000 times with near 250,000 screen views.

While these figures are pretty low in terms of my contribution to the sport, it’s a contribution nonetheless and one that I’m insanely proud of. If I was to estimate the amount of hours I’ve pumped in to this project over the past few years it would be in the thousands. Whilst I did once introduce an ad-supported version of the app in an attempt to reward myself for the work, the return from that was so limited that I decided to bin it and stick to my original idea, which is an ad-free platform built by Rugby League fans, for Rugby League fans. Quite simply, I would rather earn nothing for my efforts than a small fee that comes with an annoying ad overlay that could take away from the look and feel of my work.

Throughout the past three years there has been one sticking point that I’ve always struggled to overcome and it all boils down to the RFL and how they support publishers. I’ve spent countless weekends talking to people in an attempt to get my hands on imagery to help support the app and now the website. Before I decided to move forward with the idea of a website, every time I enquired about imagery to use throughout the app was met with emails, and conversations that had words to the effect of “I’m not sure the RFL will permit you to use these in this fashion”.

More recently I got my hands on a few pieces of brilliant photography to help me get this blog started, that you will see at the top of this page and on the homepage. Thanks to the guys at http://www.rlphotos.com/ for the support. This, however doesn’t go far enough – given how niche the sport is – the RFL really could do more to help the little guys raise the profile of the sport, with very little hit to themselves.

Given the amount of information the RFL has accessible, they could even give publishers access to an API to obtain up-to-date fixtures, results & even live scores. Though I accept this is a much bigger job that would come with it’s own set of issues and costs. As it stands, Rugby League Hub is powered by it’s own API – developed continually over the past three and a half year to provide all this information.

If there’s one thing Rugby League in the UK could benefit from, it’s better marketing. I’ve spoken to many friends who don’t understand my fascination with Rugby but I’ve also spoken to many friends that share the same passionate views as myself. The one thing I’ve picked up on during these conversations is that if you weren’t born in to a Rugby League family, then the likelihood is you probably don’t watch it. The exception being if you were introduced by a friend later in life. This is a massive shame, but unless you’re a Sky Sports regular – when do you ever see the sport advertised or talked about?

Various online publications, Rugby AM, Love Rugby League, The 18th Man to name a few are flying the flag for Rugby League – they use Social Media in creative ways, they create video content, stir up discussion and attempt to take Rugby League to a bigger audience for very little reward. Even when it comes to imagery, you’re passed from pillar to post just to be told, in a lot of instances that the RFL don’t permit you to use them in such a way. Doubly so if you’re not a newspaper or a news website, like Rugby League Hub used to be.

Regardless of support, Rugby League Hub will continue, at least in the app form. The website as it stands is an experiment run by two people, two people with very little real connection to the sport other than being passionate, die-hard fans.

I see this as a plea, a plea to people from organisations such as the RFL to reach out to the little guy trying big things to raise the profile of a game that is widely misunderstood, a game that at it’s heart is truly exciting to watch and play.

On a personal level, myself and Damon are always willing to get involved in events even if it’s an event from another publication. For example, any small clubs in need of promotion, or maybe a photographer – don’t hesitate to drop us an email and we’ll be in touch asap. Whilst I lack experience in sport photography, I still have some skills that could help out. For more information, check out my portfolio website here: http://glenntaylor.photography.

Thanks for reading.

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Glenn Taylor

Glenn is the founder and sole developer of both the Rugby League Hub website and Android app. A staunch supporter of the Leeds Rhinos team and huge advocate of the sport in general, he has been visiting Rugby League grounds around the UK since a young age.

http://www.glenntaylor.co.uk