Super League rugby is touting a “new beginning”. At the league’s launch this week, a video played out slow-motion shots of players waking up to the new season, which begins on Thursday.
Protein shakes in hand and morning stretches in their bedrooms, to suiting up in the dressing room and walking out into a light-filled stadium, the message was clear. This is a new-look Super League and one they want to appeal to a whole other audience.
It is a campaign led by chief executive Robert Elstone in an obvious attempt to market the Super League to younger fans. His first seven months in charge have brought upheaval. The Super League abandoned the Super 8s format in partnership with the lower leagues to enforce a more recognisable one up, one down format alongside new play-off rules.
Not uncriticised, it’s hoped the changes will make the league more accessible and exciting. Spearheaded by new creative director Lee Hicken, maker of Amazon Prime’s Leeds Rhinos documentary As Good As It Gets, the intention is to make the league’s best players “superstars” through online video content. Decked out in Saint Laurent large thick-rimmed glasses, flat cap, trendy streetwear and trainers kids queue down the street for, Hicken epitomises the more fashionable direction in which Elstone, 54, wants to steer the league.
“In other sports, people are considered global superstars. I look at rugby league, and there’s just something not clicking. That’s our job, to start to raise their profile.” Hicken, 36, says.
Elstone and Hicken say their aim is to “create a narrative” – providing few tangible examples of how they plan to do this beyond video content – to engage people with their sport. “Inside the rugby league bubble, we are phenomenally passionate about it,” Elstone says. “We’ve got to understand why it’s not transcending out of the bubble.”