Should Super League look to Scottish Football for guidance?

08 December 2018 - Written by Zack Wilson

Rugby league needs to start learning from other sports very quickly.

There is a deeply conservative tendency in our game, which looks on anything from outside as unworthy of respect or attention.

But one place we should be looking at is Scotland, and its football league.

That might be a surprising statement for some people, but the chances are that not many reading this article will have paid much attention to the Scottish round-ball game in their lives.

People who don’t ever watch Scottish football, or indeed pay any attention to it at all, tend to deride it, something which only serves to highlight their own ignorance.

The thing about Scottish football is that crowds are growing. It is also in demand with TV broadcasters. It gets plenty of media coverage and big sponsorship deals.

The Scottish Premiership has just agreed a new deal with Sky Sports, which will kick in when 2020 comes around.

The deal will make Sky the competition’s exclusive broadcaster, and is worth around £160 million.

That’s an increase of 20% on the last deal. It is being reported as being worth around £26 million a season.

Yes, when compared to the Premier League the riches on offer look like small beer, but the product is in demand from broadcasters.

Those sums also look impressive when compared with rugby league’s TV deals.

Live Scottish Championship games will be shown live on BBC Scotland from early next year, and a highlights deal is in place with BBC Scotland to show games until 2025.

Rugby league outside Super League would love a deal like that.

Crowds are also growing. The average attendance in the Scottish Premiership last season was just over 15,000.

Yes, Celtic and Rangers drag that figure up, but most clubs get crowds which are comparable to Super League clubs.

That shows that most Super League clubs have work to do when it comes to getting fans through the gates.

There is also plenty of incident and drama in Scottish football, off the pitch as well as on.

The likes of Neil Lennon and Craig Levein like to get things fired up with inflammatory quotes at press conferences.

We never have any of that in Super League. I can’t remember the last time a coach or player issued a challenge to a rival.

Management feuds between coaches are common in Scotland, and the flames of them are fanned in a press which is obsessed with the sport.

Like rugby league supporters, Scottish football fans are intensely committed to their team’s cause, and provide much more passion at games than anything you see in the anaemic fan culture of the Premier League.

The lower tiers of Scottish football have plenty of similarities to rugby league outside of Super League, too.

The crowds are similar. Fewer lower league Scottish football clubs have existential financial problems, though, which says something about the relative economic strength of Scottish soccer.

Robert Elstone is another link.

Elstone spent time working with Scottish football earlier in his career, helping with the branding of the Scottish Premier League.

The problem with rugby league is that is has a problem which affects many English institutions at the moment: it looks inward too often.

If we all raise our heads and look up for a bit, models on how we can make our fragile sport more resilient are there to learn from.

Perhaps the SPFL offers more of a template for us than many would suspect.

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