THERE was a time, when we might have enjoyed only two or three games a year from the BBC on a small, black-and-white TV, that the popular view of the rugby league media was to get rid of live coverage completely.
We didn’t embrace it — we were afraid of it and fearful that it would keep fans at home, watching on the little box in the corner of the living room.
How times change ! Fifty years on from those days of packed stadia, football specials, men with placards warning against Sunday rugby and demon drink, rattles, flat caps, fag packets and pre-match brass bands, television is king.
Not only do we love it; we can’t manage without it and without its big pay cheques.
Full colour, expert analysis, slow-motion shots, replays, where would we be without them ?
The world is changing; faster than any of us would have envisaged only 12 months ago before this Covid pandemic.
Words like bubbles, tiers, masks, tests, protocols have taken on new meanings and live sport, as we have known it all our lives, might never be quite the same again.
Arising out of all this, and combined with the rapid and amazing advances in technology, comes streaming — a 21st century technical development that enables sporting bodies like the RFL to offer fans the facility to watch games on their smart phones, computers, laptops etc. In some instances, the production can even be cast to TV.
If we can put men on the Moon and ‘spying’ devices on Mars, why wouldn’t we be able to do that ?
It all comes at a cost, of course, and few rugby league admin folk are better equipped than the Oldham chairman to know all there is to know about the rigorous, almost impossible, demands of trying to keep income ahead of expenditure at a comparatively small club like ours.
Chris Hamilton, the accountant turned great rugby league survivor, can be largely credited as the main man in keeping Roughyeds alive this past 23 years or so.
He’s certainly one of, if not the longest serving club official in the game, and there was no prouder man in Rugby League than Chris on the occasion this ex-head boy at Bluecoat School first wore his RFL presidential chain of office in public.
No one knows better than he the financial fears that dominate the lives of owners, chairmen, directors and chief executives of all clubs, but especially those of clubs outside of Super League or the upper echelons of the Betfred Championship.
For almost quarter of a century he has single-handedly governed the Roughyeds’ cash flow and been responsible for paying the bills on a daily basis.
How could he ever have imagined, even in his darkest days (and there have been a few of those), that the club would go a full year without income through turnstiles before starting the following season, 2021, with games played behind closed doors ?
No fans will be allowed in at Featherstone for next Saturday’s friendly or at Bower Fold for the two Saturdays after that — Halifax Panthers on March 13 (friendly) and Barrow Raiders on March 20 in the first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup.
You can watch the Featherstone game for free at the Millennium Stadium, or Post Office Road to you and I, courtesy of the Rovers’ own broadcasting facility on their website, which is another example of the amazing and awesome technology that has taken over our lives, yet is still taken for granted by younger members of our rapidly-advancing society.
Then come the home games against the prowling Panthers and the rugged Raiders of League 1 who, on their own admission, are preparing to ‘slug it out’ in a ‘brutal’ tie.
Both are streamed on OuRLeague, free to Oldham season-ticket holders but at a bargain price of £4.95 for other fans who buy early before game-day and £10 for those who leave it to match-day before doing the necessary.
This is one way clubs can at least recoup some of the money they lose when fans aren’t allowed in, so Chris will be anxiously waiting for the RFL’s viewing figures with which to work out whether he will have sleepless nights to look forward to further into the season until such time as turnstiles are unlocked.
OuRLeague is clearly going to have a big part to play in the season ahead and according to League Express, the much respected and well-informed independent trade paper, the OuRLeague App has been, and is, one of the RFL’s most remarkable success stories.
When the app was launched in autumn, 2017, the RFL was one of the first governing bodies in sport to invest that way and it now has 160,000 members.
It was much valued by Super League clubs last year when it allowed them to provide coverage of behind-closed-doors games to season-ticket holders.
This year, in accordance with the app, Championship and League 1 clubs will be able to similarly reward home season-ticket holders while improving their cash flow with bargain payments from other fans and away supporters, always providing they take advantage of watching in their favourite armchair and without the cost and inconvenience of travel.
Said the RFL’s Mark Forster:
“We hope fans of clubs at all levels will watch OurLeague. Clubs have been so long without action there should be plenty of demand.
“We’ve improved the quality and reliability of OurLeague streaming and we’ve also set minimum standards.
“It is important too that we recognise the support of our broadcast partners, Sky Sports, in allowing us to stream games from Super League and Championship.”
One leading administrator who is convinced that streaming will go from strength to strength is Huddersfield Giants managing director Richard Thewlis.
“It was a success last year in Super League and it will continue to be successful while we are playing behind closed doors.
“Income and costs would normally be shared in a friendly fixture and with a streamed friendly we are getting close to replicating that model.
“I believe streaming will become an even bigger part of life as times move on and supporters’ viewing habits change.”
The day after Oldham’s home game against Halifax is streamed on Saturday, March 13 (4pm), the Giants and Leeds Rhinos go head to head in a friendly at the John Smith’s Stadium (2pm).
“It will be a trial for us in terms of it being our first pay-for-view game via the RFL and the take-up will give us an idea of what we can expect further down the line.”
The same will apply to Oldham, as Chris will no doubt concur.
Supporters can go here for more information on how to go about purchasing OurLeague coverage of the Halifax and Barrow Raiders games.
Streaming is clearly here to stay and, in 2021, is a facility to be embraced.
+ While talking of our club chairman, have you noticed that he now has a weekly column, published every Friday, in the Oldham Times ?
The paper itself has undergone a massively positive move by bucking the trend of the local newspaper industry and expanding from a weekly publication to daily, six days a week in fact, Monday to Saturday inclusive.
It’s on the news stands every morning and is priced at 70p.