Hull FC on Tour: Pearson backs Rugby League chiefs to transform the sport’s fortunes

Hull FC's Danny Houghton, right, pictured with Wigan's Sean O'Loughlin in Wollongong ahead of Saturday's first ever Super League game played in Australia. (Pictures: Tim Fisher)
Hull FC's Danny Houghton, right, pictured with Wigan's Sean O'Loughlin in Wollongong ahead of Saturday's first ever Super League game played in Australia. (Pictures: Tim Fisher)
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HULL FC owner Adam Pearson believes there is already enough nous around the new Super League boardroom to take the competition into a bright new era – with or without promoters such as Eddie Hearn.

In the wake of RFL chief executive Nigel Wood standing down last month, Matchroom Sport boss Hearn has spoken about how he might be interested in getting involved in reviving rugby league’s ailing fortunes.

Having worked wonders in boxing, in particular, many in the sport hope he will bring his talents to the table to boost its popularity and commercial value.

It remains to be seen whether the RFL will pick up the phone but Super League – whose 12 clubs recently ratified changes to the competition’s board which saw their own CEOs appointed instead of Wood – do have plans of their own.

On Hearn, Pearson told The Yorkshire Post: “You’d speak to anybody who has got good ideas wouldn’t you? I’ve not heard anything about that yet. Obviously he’s got a sport there in boxing that is thriving. I’ve watched his father (Barry) for a great many years in many sports, too.

“But I think we have some pretty competitive plans of our own to put in place as well which are pretty exciting for the sport.

The WIN stadium in Wollongong

The WIN stadium in Wollongong

“And there is a lot of experience around the table when you look at the owners of the clubs, both from rugby league and football. Obviously myself and Ian (Lenagan – Wigan) have served on the Football League and Premier League board, (Leeds Rhinos’) Gary (Hetherington) has been around the sport for a great deal of time and people like (St Helens owner) Eamonn McManus as well; there’s enough brainpower there to tie in to.

“It’s just making sure we get a plan, stick to it and make ourselves attractive. It’s obviously going to be important that the Super League directors make an impact on the sport; we are all now responsible for it.

“Over the next three or four months you’ll see some plans and structures evolving from Super League that can take the sport forward, hopefully in a more commercial and pro-active light.

“We’re trying to do things really quietly due to confidentiality but we feel we’ve made the right decision and with the experience around that table we’ll be able to do it sensibly.”

It’s just making sure we get a plan, stick to it and make ourselves attractive. It’s obviously going to be important that the Super League directors make an impact on the sport; we are all now responsible for it.

Adam Pearson

Pearson, the former Hull City and Derby County chairman who also served as Leeds United commercial director, is in Australia as Hull FC prepare to face Wigan Warriors here in Saturday’s ground-breaking Super League game.

That has been driven by Wigan’s bold-thinking owner Lenagan, the current Football League chairman who has also served the same role with Oxford United.

Clearly, football’s commercial reach dwarfs anything in rugby league but with the likes of Pearson and Lenagan now having a more direct involvement on Super League it is hoped the dozen clubs together can push through real change.

If this trip is a success, it would be no surprise if there are more Super League games held Down Under in the future, while a New York-based franchise is hoping to join the RFL in 2019.

Pearson will be speaking to NRL clubs, who have benefitted from a massive broadcast deal, while in New South Wales although he admits that is not his main objective during the fortnight tour which also sees Hull FC play St George-Illawarra.

“I’m here to see how they do it, how each club is structured and obviously to meet people at the NRL as well,” he said. “But really we’re doing this (tour) for the club’s benefit – Hull FC.

“From the Super League business, we have a lot to sort out closer to Britain such as competition structure and commercial revenues.

“It’s very early days. Nigel has only just left. There’s a lot of meetings scheduled for when I get back. They are important meetings to see where we are going with the sport. I think everyone realises it is a very big year for rugby league.”

That said, it will be interesting to see how Hull fare against NRL opponents.

Comparing the two competitions, Harrogate-born Pearson admitted: “We play a lot more games but need that to keep the finances coming in unfortunately. They have a huge TV deal.

“We don’t think we’re that far behind them. We know they do.

“But we really want to put on a show against St George to show we’re not. The international team did that; England could have won that World Cup final last year.

“We have some good players. Sometimes we’re a bit hesitant in talking about what is good about rugby league and what good players we have as we do have real athletes. Back home, rugby union gets huge media coverage in the national press and down the M5 corridor.

“They’re a real threat to us and we have to fight back in the north.

“We’ve a few plans in place, to be fair, that will hopefully do that.

“We’ve a product on the pitch that is so strong; it’s just a case of getting it out there to a bigger audience.”

Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australia in association with Ladbrokes.com