Pay-per-view games will save rugby league after coronavirus

LEADING agent Craig Harrison believes putting matches on pay-per-view but behind closed doors is the only way to “save” rugby league following the devastating effects of the coronavirus.

A general view, of Wakefield Trinity's Belle Vue stadium, fans, supporters. (Picture: SWPix.com)

The former owner of Doncaster Rugby League club has some of Super League’s best talent on his books at Show Me The Money UK, including previous Steve Prescott Man of Steel winners Luke Gale and Zak Hardaker.

He famously uses GIFs of Postman Pat on Twitter when he has sealed another deal, with his trademark line about ‘always delivering’.

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However, with the sport – like everything – having ground to a halt last month owing to the global pandemic, that has been replaced in recent weeks with a daily image of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day character Phil Connors.

A general view inside the stadium ahead of the Betfred Super League match between Leeds Rhinos and Hull Kingston Rovers at Emerald Headingley Stadium. (Picture: George Wood/Getty Images)

With players already on furlough, there is no scope for discussing new contracts when clubs themselves do not yet know what the full impact of Covid-19 will be as they brace themselves for significant financial losses.

But Harrison, 49, told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m a lover of the game; my passion is the game. I’m actually the opposite of ‘Show Me The Money’ and I’ve an idea to save the sport. I’ve never been as serious. Once I explained to the lads what furlough was, I encouraged all of them to do that and help their club so the game could survive. I thought it was the only way to save the game. Players are doing the right thing, staying at home, staying healthy and, to be honest, looking at all the videos they all actually look fitter.

“Don’t ask me how. Whether their bodies are getting repaired or they’re doing more cardio, who knows. There’s been no business done, though, and it’d be actually disrespectful if I tried to do a deal while people are losing their lives.

“But what worries me is people don’t understand how big this [shutdown] is. We’re still talking about things that aren’t going to happen; there won’t be 18,000 people at games next month.

“If anyone thinks we’re going to allow crowds back into a stadium before September they need help.

“It’s not going to happen and somebody has to say it.”

Rugby league is now facing a fifth successive weekend with no games and no obvious developments in terms of a likely resumption, it is becoming increasingly important plans are developed to bring it out of this financial mess when they do get the green light.

However, Harrison believes it needs to seize the initiative and go to the Government with a proposal to get back in action before the current lockdown is lifted. Although there is talk of playing three games per week when the season does resume, Harrison’s plan is to avoid that scenario by proving they can safely start up sooner – even if it is at a price.

Doncaster-born Harrison said: “I’ve spoken to 22 people across the game in the last 48 hours to put this plan together. It involves getting players back on the field which means (Covid-19) testing, temperature count, isolation and everybody to adhere to that.

“All have to be tested seven days before a game and have to pass that test on the Monday to train. Anyone with a temperature of more than 38 is out.

“We need to be ready to go in six weeks’ time. No one can play while on furlough – they’ll have to come off it – but furlough won’t last long anyway. The sport needs to get games on or otherwise the game is gone and putting it on pay-per-view is the answer.”

Fans who have already subscribed to Sky Sports for their Super League coverage may argue otherwise at the prospect of paying out more money when cuts are being made across the land.

But Harrison, who has Leeds Rhinos legend Danny McGuire and Castleford Tigers hooker Paul McShane among his 104 clients, countered: “I understand that argument but you could put four games on Sky and four Pay-Per-View. This could be our chance to grab other supporters to watch our game.

“Our audience are all sat in their homes watching 16 different series on Netflix.

“We’ve got to go for it now. Obviously it has got to be safe but the game has to look at what it will be like when it does come back and admit there will be no crowds.

“Sky and the RFL have got to find a way of coming together to do this and clubs may have to discount season-ticket holders, too, but I feel it has to be done.

“Clubs are also saying they have the facility to stream games through their own website if Sky agree.

“Every rugby league club can benefit; Championship and League 1 clubs can stream the Super League game on their pay-per-view via websites and - from people without Sky Sports - can create income streams for themselves.

“We need to share it all the way down the game.

“I think we’ve got a chance. If we can be one of the first sports back on TV, we could show the world how good our sport is.

“People say it’s all about money but I’ve done UFC pay-per-views since day one and I get boxing that way, too. The big fights I don’t want to miss. Why aren’t we any different?

“Furlough has saved the game for now but unless they get some other source of income coming in, there will be cuts and the game will be unrecognisable.

“For now, though, I just hope everyone stays safe and stays well. That’s the most important thing.”

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