Rovers manager Longo: Many questions left unanswered over future

Rovers general manager Davide Longo: "There is an air of uncertainty in regards to what the future of the game looks like."
Rovers general manager Davide Longo: "There is an air of uncertainty in regards to what the future of the game looks like."

FEATHERSTONE Rovers general manager Davide Longo believes there is an “air of uncertainty” surrounding the sport’s future.

He has called for clarity after attending a meeting of all second and third-tier teams last week.

Longo feels decisions concerning potential structural changes must be made “sooner rather than later”, with the start of the Super 8s just around the corner.

He said:: “There is an air of uncertainty in regards to what the future of the game looks like, certainly in terms of its structure in the coming years.

“There are many questions left unanswered. We met with all other Championship and League 1 clubs last week and there was plenty of talk but very little else. It lasted for in excess of four hours.

“We still aren’t sure how Super League, the Championship or League 1 will shape up next season and, given the fact there is less than three months of the current campaign remaining, that is a tad worrying.

“From an administrative point of view, it makes long-term planning virtually impossible.

“It is difficult to work on extending contracts and agreements, both commercially and in terms of staff and players, which only reduces a club’s chance of success.

“The strategy we have put in place here at Featherstone is threatened by the fact we do not know where we stand.

“Are clubs going to be relegated from Super League or the Championship this year? If we find ourselves in a dream position, would be be granted a place in the top flight?

“Although, in theory, nothing has changed, we feel it very well might in the coming weeks and months and all of this potentially weakens our position.”

Longo has paid tribute to the work of League 1 promotion-favourites Toronto Wolfpack, while admitting rugby league is beginning to lose ground on other sports vying for growth.

“Several different sports are striving forward and it is difficult to argue a case that we are,” added the former Wakefield Trinity general manager.

“I have been working as an administrator in rugby league for close to two decades and we are still having the same conversations now as we were then. We aren’t moving forward and there is plenty to back that up.

“When you look at a sport like darts, which has become a global phenomenon in less than 10 years, you have to question the position of rugby league.

“We feel the game needs to adapt to what is very much a changing world. Fans, such as those who enjoy going to watch major darts events, demand an experience beyond the sport being played.

“Look at the way in which the NFL come to Wembley, attract huge crowds and develop popularity thousands of miles from ‘home’.

“For me, rugby league needs to stop concerning itself over structures and which clubs plays where and when. It must focus on improving the experience it provides. It is not enough to just sit back and hope exciting games will develop a sport.

“Football, 30 years ago, was a game surrounded by hooliganism, crumbling stadiums, sub-standard safety issues, it was male-dominated and constant crowd problems existed.

“What we see today is the ongoing end result of a vision, which has made English football not only better but a far more accessible sport for all. The experience it provides, both for fans and corporate guests, is like no other.

“Cricket, a sport which has faced its own adversities in terms of audiences and its format, has developed and promoted a sort of hybrid version of itself - which most would argue has taken the game to another level.

“From a Featherstone perspective, we are having to attempt to plan for the unknown. In terms of budgeting for 2018, we are treading carefully on the premise that we become more than self-sustainable regardless of central funding provided.

“There is talk of Super League and Championship expansion in the media but where will the extra funding come from? Will promotion and relegation remain? It is unclear at the moment.

“If funds are shared out further, what does that mean for the second-tier clubs already sailing far too close to the wind?

“Sporting success stories often come on the back of long-term planning and a vision. We just want to be able to have things laid out, so we know what that will look like for us as a club.

“We can work within any structure but certain aspects are crucial from a Featherstone perspective and we feel, frustratingly, that plenty remains undecided.

“I cannot think of one example, in any walk of life, where uncertainty has resulted in success in growth, which rugby league badly desires - from top to bottom.

“Given the commercial challenges the sport faces, and frankly there simply isn’t money flowing into the 13-man game, we feel funds provided centrally must be distributed carefully towards the clubs striving to improve - on and off the field - and enhance rugby league itself.

“It is fair to say that the Toronto Wolfpack approach and everything that has come with it has brought more to rugby league and its future prosperity than anything the game has tinkered in the last 25 years.

“Rugby league has witnessed proven success stories, in the 90s, with the likes of Keighley and ‘Cougarmania’ and Bradford, with ‘Bullmania’. The Cougars’ path perhaps became blocked but the Bulls proved what can be achieved when the game itself isn’t relied on as a sole source of interest.

“The Wolfpack, generating crowds of 7,000 plus, recognise that their audience need more than 80 minutes of rugby league and there work in and around every fixture, generating a gamed experience like no other, is what is and will keep the fans flocking to their games.

“It is a fairly simple concept, and one we are doing all we can to implement at Featherstone, within a tight budget, though we waste vital hours discussing promotion, relegation, what might happen and when while other sports power forward and grow.”