Peter Smith - ‘Inside Rugby League’: Added time in TV games is proving to be a turn-off

Action from Leeds Rhinos' elongated home game with Castleford Tigers last week. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Action from Leeds Rhinos' elongated home game with Castleford Tigers last week. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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LAST Friday’s derby at Headingley was an event: big crowd, lively atmosphere, good game.

But by the end just about everybody in Headingley Stadium must have been glad to get away.

Market research needs to be done by clubs and the governing body to determine if more fans would be attracted by earlier kick-offs.

The YEP’s Peter Smith

Rugby league is supposed to last 80 minutes. The game between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers kicked off at, roughly, 8pm and the final whistle was blown more than two hours later.

That was by no means unique. Games, particularly ones televised live, are taking longer and longer to complete.

It may not seem like a huge issue for a sport facing so many other problems, but is something the authorities need to address.

Fewer matches in Betfred Super League are now staged on the traditional Sunday afternoon. Last weekend there was none: one round 19 fixture was played on Thursday night for Sky TV, there were four on Friday evening and one Saturday afternoon match.

This week there is one 8pm kick-off on Thursday, another game 24 hours later, two on Saturday evening and two at 3pm on Sunday.

Evening matches are not necessarily a bad thing, particularly in a sport largely confined to a small area in the north of England and with relatively short distances between clubs.

There’s a special atmosphere for games played at night, under lights and clubs like Leeds Rhinos have made Friday evenings their own.

But kick-offs – and therefore finish times – have crept later, from 7.30pm, to 7.45 and now 8pm. For fans with young children, even on a Friday, that is far from ideal – and it’s even more difficult on Thursdays, especially for away supporters.

One of the changes being considered by clubs for next season is earlier kick-off times. That would certainly be welcomed by the media – including the Yorkshire Evening Post.

As kick-off times have got later, deadlines have moved in the other direction. The YEP is now sent to print at around 10.45pm on a Friday, which does not leave much margin for error when games start just two and a half hours earlier.

A 7.30pm or even 7.45pm kick-off would make life less difficult and the same applies to the national press, who would be much more likely to devote more space to match reports if that was the case.

Earlier kick-offs would boost media coverage of the sport, but would not suit everyone. Though fans would get home earlier, it would obviously mean more of a rush to get to games after school and work.

Market research needs to be done by clubs and the governing body to determine if more fans would be attracted by earlier kick-offs.

In the meantime, clearly something has to be done to speed things up. There’s no reason why games can’t begin exactly on the advertised time, but many – even those not on television – don’t.

Stoppages to treat injured players are necessary and medics should take all the time they need.

But half-time intervals have been getting longer and more unnecessary breaks in play seem to be creeping in.

It wouldn’t take too much effort to remove those from the sport. Is there anything more frustrating than the action being held up while the referee’s sound system is sorted out? A time limit on drop-outs or goal kicks would also cut out time-wasting. Give a kicker one minute or he loses the opportunity and penalise teams who take more than a certain time over restarts and the problem would soon disappear.

Sky could also help by tinkering with their coverage, which is one reason why half-time now takes longer.

The biggest cause of delay, in televised matches, is the video referee.

That’s a subject for debate in itself, but it shouldn’t take more than a couple of replays of the same camera angle to confirm – or overturn – any decision.

Confining video ref referrals to in-goal incidents – not on-side, offside or obstruction – would be another positive step.

Fans love rugby league, but they don’t want to spend all day at a game.

It’s time to get it sorted.

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