Super League boss Robert Elstone wants the competition to maximise its time in the sporting spotlight in August as it returns to action on Sunday.
Rugby league’s top flight kicks off again with a double header at Headingley having shut down for the coronavirus
Elstone says this weekend was deliberately chosen by the sport in consultation with broadcasters Sky to maximise the media focus on it following the conclusion of the Premier League last weekend.
Now he wants Super League to make the most of its “opportunity” after a difficult month that saw Toronto Wolfpack withdraw from the competition less than two weeks before the restart.
Elstone explained: “We said to Sky, ‘When would you like us to start?’ They felt this weekend was best for their schedules and it presents us with an opportunity.
“It would be very easy coming out of months of hard work to say that finishing the season will be the main aim. But we should aspire for more.
“I’m hopeful when we get crowds back we can maximise that and we owe our fans something in the sense of their loyalty.”
Toronto’s controversial exit – following financial, visa and logistical issues – has dominated headlines in recent weeks. But Elstone insists he never feared for the future of any of the other 11 clubs despite the difficulties of lockdown, which have included a reduction in television money for next year.
“From the outset it was clear this was going to be a challenge in all sorts of ways, not least financially,” he said.
“Like any business, we looked at our costs and revenues and we took some fairly dramatic steps. While the outcomes for 2020 and 2021 are going to be a lot different to what people expected, we’ve given clubs certainty on future distributions.
“As a priority, it was to deal with the financial challenges and I think we did a really good job on that.”
Elstone confirmed that the loss of Toronto has not impacted on Sky’s distribution this year after the competition accounted for such scenarios in negotiations for the rest of the 2020 season, and said the possibility of another club replacing them immediately was always unlikely.
And while his focus this weekend rests primarily on the matches between St Helens and Catalans and Huddersfield and Leeds, he says the sport needs to clarify its approach to North American expansion in the wake of the Wolfpack saga and the planned entry to League One of Ottawa and New York in coming years.
Elstone added: “Toronto were introduced with a very clear set of financial conditions and I understand they and the English clubs accepted them. Toronto had asked to speak to Super League clubs about restating that. I was sympathetic to it but they’d been introduced on what I believe was a very clear set of rules
“Strategic expansion into areas where there’s an affinity to the game, where it’s played, where it’s connected geographically, makes sense. This felt to me a different expansion strategy, which isn’t to say it was never going to work and there’s absolutely no, ‘I told you so,’ in any of this.”