SUPER LEAGUE chief executive Robert Elstone last night vowed the sport will become faster in 2019 – and will no longer waste time searching for the elusive “silver bullet” to reach all its goals.
The Grand Final between Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves takes place at Old Trafford this evening to decide the champions of the domestic competition.
The showpiece occasion hopes to attract a crowd of around 70,000 for a fifth successive year.
However, it is building competition attendances, audiences, commerciality and profile throughout the season that are the main elements in Elstone’s brief following the former Everton FC chief executive’s appointment in June.
He conceded the opening few months of his tenure had been difficult following the wrangling over the competition format for next season.
We need to make an impact in 2019, and in 2020. We need to tell our broadcast partners there’s something new, some momentum, a commitment to change, a commitment to growth.Robert Elstone
With that now having reached the outcome Super League desired, though, the Yorkshireman is looking forward to getting to grips with maximising its potential in the years ahead.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, he said: “We need to make an impact in 2019, and in 2020. We need to tell our broadcast partners there’s something new, some momentum, a commitment to change, a commitment to growth.
“We need to tell them in a demonstrable way, one that’s backed up with tangible, visible evidence.
“We’re talking to commercial partners, we’re talking to Sky, we’ve consulted internally with players and coaches. We’ll be announcing a number of rule changes to speed the game up.”
Elstone revealed a conversation with the most successful captain of the summer era Kevin Sinfield, who led Leeds Rhinos to seven titles, emphasised the direction in which it must go.
“We’re committed to emphasising the ‘last man standing’ nature of our sport,” said the 54-year-old.
“I was with Kevin Sinfield earlier in the week at an event and he said Grand Final winners need to go through moments in the game when they can’t breathe, can’t speak. We’ll have that this weekend – we have two of Super League’s best clubs (Wigan and Warrington), on and off the field, set to go toe-to-toe. We need that intensity in our game week-in, week-out. I’m confident we will see a quicker game in 2019.”
Barnsley-born Elstone also realises the sport needs a “lift” and can no longer simply go along with the “rhetoric” of being the greatest game.
He said: “Many of the fundamentals, the key ingredients are in place. A great sport, fantastic athletes, proud, historic clubs sitting firmly at the centre of communities, a knowledgeable, passionate fan base that cares, that unites as a family at Wembley, Magic, and this weekend at Old Trafford.
“But I wouldn’t be here if all was rosy. It needs a lift; it’s in need of some energy, confidence and belief; needing to be younger in its outlook and more relevant to a younger audience.
“Attendances are flat and we need to ask why in an honest and upfront way.
“Maybe spend less time asking people already firmly ‘in the tent’; we need to ask questions of and listen to more people outside the tent; stop listening to the rhetoric that we are the greatest game and if you don’t agree then it’s you with the problem.
“Listen to those that aren’t coming, who aren’t the evangelists and believers.
“And we’ll only make the changes we need if we’re brave enough to put every aspect of the game under the spotlight – the pace, intensity of the product; the profile of our players; the facilities we play in; the investment being made by our clubs in marketing, community and audience development.
“It’s also time to stop the search for the ‘silver bullet’. There isn’t a fixture format to cure all ills. There isn’t a marketing slogan or campaign that will fill our stadia.
“It’s about working hard, being professional, caring about what we do and how we look, not taking ‘no’ for an answer, attention to detail, pride in our sport, our clubs and our players, pulling together in the same direction.”
Elstone admitted much of his opening four months in the post had been spent “negotiating our demarcation with the RFL”, but he remains “excited, optimistic, determined” about the future.