The Rugby League International Federation has just announced that Australia and New Zealand will be joint hosts of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. South Africa was the other bidder, but somehow I don’t think it was too much of a contest. The RLWC2013 should certainly be considered a success if you compare it to previous tournaments, specifically the 1995 and 2000 attempts. So in 2017 it comes back to Australia, who successfully hosted the 10 nation 2008 World Cup.
Given that the winner was just announced it is fair to assume that no solid plans have been developed (especially considering we still don’t have solid dates for the internationals held in Australia later this year), however chickatthefooty would like to provide a report card on the 2013 World Cup to help the 2017 organisers can ponder on some lessons learnt.
Report Card: General
The 2013 Rugby League World Cup brought us five weeks of international footy action across four countries. I had planned on seeing 15 matches in three weeks in three countries, I ended up with nine matches in five weeks in two countries. Not too shabby considering other events. I’ve had the privilege to now watch several matches for the past two World Cups and I thought I would give the chickatthefooty’s impressions on this most recent World Cup.
1. Rugby league fans: A
Rugby league fans in the north of England deserve a medal. I know it’s a game normally played in the summer there now, but for the crowds to turn up like they did in October/November, in the conditions that prevailed was fantastic. Not that the conditions were particularly bad, just normal I’m gathering, but as an Australian I was impressed by the temperatures they were prepared to endure to watch the matches.
2. England vs New Zealand Semi-Final: A+
In my initial itinerary I was not even going to be in the country for the double header at Wembley, but I’m glad I got the chance to see this match. Now I personally had no allegiance either way with this match so I was surprised how this match drew me in. I had well and truly predicted in advance that it would be a New Zealand/Australia final at Old Trafford, but I had a soft spot for the hosts. In a country where league is well and truly down the pecking order (using a magnifying glass to find stories about it in the national papers), England making the final would have been a boon for the game. England, and the Wembley crowd, sucked me in for this game. The crowd took a while to warm up, but once the home team took the lead they came into their own. By the last twenty minutes I was on my feet like the rest and I have to say I was genuinely disappointed for the team and the crowd when they were pipped at the post. Admittedly I didn’t feel the anguish that the rest of the crowd did, but I knew how they felt. Australians watching the 2008 World Cup Final felt it.
3. The Stadiums: C
In many cases, standing room only. Maybe I’m spoilt when it comes to rugby league stadiums. Suncorp Stadium, in my backyard, is probably the best rugby league stadium in the world, and in terms of viewing and facilities Skilled Park on the Gold Coast is not too far behind. But I don’t know of too many stadiums in Australia where half the stadium is standing only. Not a hill for sitting (ala Brookevale), but terraces for standing. I then can’t imagine those terraces being full, and people paying $30 for the privilege of standing for an entire match. Again, it’s a credit to the fans that they would fork out that much to watch two teams from the southern hemisphere. Now don’t get me wrong, Wembley is an awesome stadium, but even as a double header, it wasn’t going to be a sell out as a semi-final. The final maybe, if England was competing. But there was a bit of grumbling that it was too far from the league heartland in the north.
4. Stadium Management: C
Opportunities lost. I know stadium hire arrangements are different for different matches, even in Australia. But it did strike me as odd that in some stadiums I couldn’t buy any merchandise once I was in the stadium. No programmes, no World Cup merch. Nothing. Silly me thinking I would pick something up once inside the stadium. Only food was available inside, and even then, that was not guaranteed. To find that not one single scrap of food was available in the seated half of the Halliwell Jones Stadium at Warrington right on kick off was unbelievable. Considering the sold out sign went up hours before kick off, it doesn’t take much of a buisnessman/catering manager to know that for a 6PM kick off you might need some food for the masses.
5. Merchandise: B-
Opportunities lost 2. And another thing on merchandise, the range was quite limited, if actually available. I spoke to a number of people who had wanted to purchase jerseys for quite a few teams playing in the tournament only to find that the merch vans (only available outside the venue, not inside) did not even sell the team jerseys. This was disappointing as an Aussie who had come to make out like a bandit buying up jerseys for 50 pound ($90) when the same items are being sold in Aus for $150 before the tournament. The USA jersey was quite popular and yet was not on sale at any of the USA games I went to.
6. Pool Matches: B+
Credit goes to some exciting pool games. The pool games are what I came to see. Not the lopsided games that the big three played, but the battle of the minnows. This was where the upsets occurred and the international rankings were affected – Italy beating Wales, France edging out PNG and Scotland beating the previously undefeated USA (the team compositions is a topic for a later post).
7. Entertainment: C+
Pre match entertainment. When will [[gby league get this right? I know there’s a school of thought that by providing a selection of entertainers outside the tastes of the general league going public that you are trying to expand league’s exposure. But a World Cup is not the time or place. The opening ceremony featured a harp player and a string group and some Dancing with the Stars ‘talent’. Now I may be passionate about league, and also played a stringed instrument back in the day, but that is not the average league punter. More people in the crowd got up and danced and sang when Tom Jones was played over the PA. A rugby league match may not sell out Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (and it appears double header featuring England and Wales still won’t do it), pay the $$ and get the real Tom Jones. That would have put more bums on seats and garnered some big exposure.
Mascots. Also, on behalf of a friend, more playing nation mascots please. Seems a bit sad that only England and USA got in on the mascot party, Grubber and Steed aside.
8. Curtain Raisers: Not submitted.
Folks back in Australia probably wouldn’t have noticed on the broadcast, but there were no earlier games. When you paid your 20 or 50 quid, you got one game. I know the season here had ended, but surely there would have been some rep teams or local team, or anyone, who could have put on a curtain raiser. I think there was a lost opportunity to invite some of the developing nations to put on exhibition matches. I know there are costs involved, but if this World Cup was about expanding the international game, it would’ve worth it.
Final Grade: B-
Overall I got the feeling that this was a cautious World Cup – one burnt by the experiences of 1995 and 2000. It was a gamble having an extra 4 teams, but I think it paid off. Onwards and upwards for 2017 I say (noting that my youngest owes me a World Cup tournament). The South Africa bid was encouraging if not overly ambitious (I think making a World Cup would be a good first step), but there will be bigger expectations of the next World Cup.
What improvements would you like to see for the next World Cup?