|Brian Barwick - Chairman, RFL|
|Profile of the week|
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 09:44
Brian Barwick took up the role of Non-Executive Chairman at the Rugby Football League in February 2013.
He has a wealth of experience in sport and broadcasting and is the founding partner of Barwick Media and Sport, a global sport and media consultancy.
Brian has held a number of senior positions including, Chief Executive of the Football Association, Controller of Sport at ITV, and a number of key roles within the BBC, including Head of Television Sport.
How did you become the chairman of the RFL?
About three years ago I was approached by several key people in the rugby league family, the post was vacant, in fact there was an interim in, and I was asked whether I’d ever be interested in becoming the chairman and I come from the north west of England, I certainly felt I knew enough about rugby league not to embarrass myself but didn’t know the same amount as many people in rugby league because my background in many ways was broadcasting and football, but I went through the process and I emerged as the chairman and I’m very happy to be.
What challenges have you had to overcome since you first took charge?
It was a sport that was, like many other sports, suffering in the economic climate, so commercially it was tough to get sponsorship support for our game.
The national body had come up with an idea to restructure the game and some of the Super League clubs felt we should be cuddling the Super League and the Super League clubs a bit more than we were and giving them a bit more direct support.
That engendered quite a tough honeymoon period, I think that’s all perfectly valid actually because I believed in a lot of the arguments that were put in front of me, not all of them, and they felt they had a chairman who would listen and a chairman who would affect change if it was needed and we resolved all those issues.
How would you say the RFL has grown under your leadership?
I think it’s more settled, it would seem to be going in a very positive direction, we have restructured the league and this is the first season of the restructure and it seems to be going extremely well.
We have signed a £200m contract with Sky, we have renewed our association with the BBC in terms of the internationals against New Zealand this coming autumn will be with them and we’ve done the Challenge Cup with them forever.
We’ve got good growth in sponsorship; I was at a Challenge Cup match recently and Ladbrokes now sponsor that, First Utility the Super League and Kingston Press the Rugby League Championship, so we are getting some really strong sponsorship interest, the crowds are buoyant and the game’s got something going for it at the moment.
We spoke to Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan recently and he said he’d like to see the sport grow globally, are there any specific regions where you would like to see the sport grow?
First and foremost, and this might be surprising, I’d like to see France get stronger and the reason is international rugby league needs four strong international sides and it would work almost best for rugby league for two of them to be in Europe and two of them to be at the other end of the world, Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand are currently ranked one, Australia will be fighting to get that ranking back, England are going well but France need to improve, so in terms of established nations it would be great to see a strong French side.
You always look at new areas so the Americas and North America, it’ll be interesting to see the game flourish in potentially Canada, the Canadian team are very interested in joining our league and into America and I don’t discount having a footprint in any area it’s a superb game, people who watch it fall in love with it, so globally we just have to build.
Currently we can build on the back of a very strong Rugby League World Cup in 2013; it’s in Australia in 2017, so we’ve established rhythm for that competition, it’s every four years, that wasn’t always the case and it was a very strong competition two years ago and it set the template for the next one in Australia and New Zealand so I’m hoping that we have a strong World Cup.
The Rugby Sevens is debuting in Rio, do you think that’s going to help the sport too?
You hope every element of rugby league that is put in front of the public works in some way and we don’t turn down any opportunity and we’re exploring opportunities all the time.