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The Culture

Chasing those column inches RFL Communications Manager JOHN LEDGER looks back on a busy off-season for the Red Hall media department

Did the hooter to signal the end of the 2012 Autumn International Series really sound more than two months ago? Have nine weeks elapsed since Kevin Sinfield hoisted aloft the trophy following that impressive, if one-sided victory over France in England’s last full international before Rugby League World Cup 2013?

Tempus certainly does fugit, as they’re wont to say in Featherstone...

So what’s been happening in the world of the RFL media department in that blink of an eye period which nowadays constitutes the off-season?

Well, the end of the year once again proved to be a period in which many members of the media team clawed back some of the time off accrued during a busy season. Matthew Trumble, the RFL’s Digital Media Manager, even had the audacity to take himself off to New York to get married (to Red Hall Facility Manager Sarah Birdsall) before jetting off on honeymoon.

Given a choice between balmy Cuba or soggy Leeds, Matthew chose Christmas in the Caribbean. You have to question some people’s commitment...

But it was not all play, for in between the long lie-ins, the occasional notcompletely-unsuccessful attempts to bank domestic brownie points after a spring, summer and autumn of extended absence from home, much of the planning that will lay the groundwork for 2013 began to take shape.

There was a succession of meetings, both internal and external; site visits to prospective venues for the season launches of the Championships and Super League and endless email exchanges with club media managers and other stakeholders.

The weeks in the immediate aftermath of the Autumn International Series final provided opportunities for reflection and review, to ensure that all of the learning points from RFL central events, including the Championship finals day, the Super League Grand Final and the internationals, are recognised.

The feedback from the rugby league media on the operational activity around these events was once again universally positive. Well, almost: there is always a photographer unhappy at having missed a post-match shot they hadn’t thought to enquire about earlier, or a technophobic reporter who couldn’t get the wifi to work.

But one thing rugby league does well is understand the operational needs of the media and put

Bright future: Warrington youngster Ben Currie in action against Salford last season

Media in place as few hurdles as possible to help them get as many column centimetres or exposure on TV and radio as possible.

The patchy coverage the sport occasionally endures in some media channels frustrates the RL correspondents and the RFL media team as much as it does the fans, for the lack of profile in no way reflects the commitment of the rugby league media, the governing body or the sport’s stars.

The elite athletes in no other major sport are as accessible or approachable as rugby league players, and the extraordinary heroes who thrill and delight in equal measure on the field once again delivered to the media in 2012.

The year ended with players from many Super League clubs participating in professional media training sessions at

Huddersfield University, where established stars like Richard Mathers, Jonny Lomax and Carl Ablett enthusiastically learned the skills needed to succeed in front of the TV cameras alongside young guns such as Ben Johnston,

Peter Aspinall and Ben Currie.

One of the biggest challenges facing rugby league remains that of engaging with an

Media man: John Ledger increasingly metrocentric national media: newspaper circulations may be falling and most titles increasingly under-resourced but no-one at Red Hall under-estimates the importance of the sport increasing its presence across all ‘old media’ channels.

The RFL Media Department has worked hard in the last few years to reestablish relationships with what used to be termed Fleet Street. In the absence of staff or contracted rugby league correspondents at every national newspaper, it has been difficult to avoid a disconnect in an era when the sports pages are dominated by the exploits of a handful of Premiership football clubs.

With support from one of the country’s leading sports PR agencies, channels of communication are being established with the decision makers and key influences on national newspapers and other media. Those conversations are constantly taking place and though the results can sometimes seem slow in coming, it has not been for the want of trying.

BBC Sport’s move to MediaCityUK in Salford has opened endless new avenues and an organisation which once seemed indifferent to the charms of rugby league is increasingly embracing the code. The benefits, both realised and potential, of the sport’s additional presence on the BBC’s media platforms are considerable.

The BBC is not the only organisation to have established a home beside the Manchester ship canal: last year saw the RFL open a new office at MediaCityUK, where the RLWC2013 team is based.

January 2013 Forty-20 43

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