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Challenge Cup draw attracts criticism

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George Riley George Riley | 22:51 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Making a cup draw looks pretty easy, but the whole process from final whistle in the previous round to picking the balls out of the velvet bag requires both an incredible amount of planning and fine-tuning.

It can also be pretty nerve-wracking, which is something I've only been able to appreciate this year, having been fortunate enough to host both the Challenge Cup fourth round and quarter-final draws.

Previously, I'd always been the jittery fan, sweating in front of the television on a Sunday afternoon, waiting for my team's number to come out. I am, of course, still a fan, but this week my only focus was on not messing it up.

Negative thoughts raced through my mind, knowing every player, coach and fan would be listening in nervous anticipation. I prayed there'd not be a spare ball left in the bag.

I also attracted some criticism on Twitter after announcing the last-eight draw would take place on our Radio 5 live Breakfast show at 0820 on Tuesday. Several comments accused the BBC of "again" not caring about the sport by putting the draw on at a stupid time.

Other tweets said "what a ridiculous time to have the draw", "why is it at 8.20 on a Tuesday and not after the final match of the weekend? Joke", and, my personal favourite, "the BBC doing all they can to help promote the game: not".

It is impossible to address such comments in 140 characters, so allow me to try and offer some insight here into the decision-making process regarding the scheduling of the draw.

A very proud moment in my life as I stand beside the Challenge Cup.

There was no window for it to take place after the final fixture on Sunday as there was no televised game on that day. We looked at holding it on 5 live Sport in the same timeslot but a live football commentary made that impossible. For logistical reasons, Monday on Breakfast was a non-starter, which meant that the first available window for a massive national audience was on Tuesday.

The peak timeslot we landed meant an audience of between two and three million. I would wager this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest audience for a Challenge Cup draw, and, being scheduled on a non-rugby league show, it was also a terrific platform to attract new fans.

One point I can sympathise with is the frustration from both fans and players about not knowing when the draw is going to be. Ideally, there would be a set time after each round when the draw is done, on a set channel, so we all know where we stand.

But it is not that simple. The key thing for our sport that craves profile and exposure is to place the draw where we can maximise both of those. Here, having it at peak time, on the Sony Award-winning national Breakfast programme of the year, was a huge result.
The failure from many fans to appreciate this frustrated me. This is exactly the kind of window us league fans strive for, so a lot of the reaction was regrettable and disappointing.

On the day itself, Rugby Football League media boss John Ledger arrived at Media City at 0730. After a quick cup of coffee, out came the famous old trophy and the all-important velvet bag, with the eight numbered, oval balls.

John then met with our producer Tim to discuss how the item would fit into our show. It is a fast-paced news and sport programme, so keeping it snappy was crucial.

Before John arrived, presenter Rachel Burden had already admitted she was petrified of messing it up, while Nicky Campbell told me he was excited and privileged at being asked to conduct it. In more unhelpful criticism, the choice of Nicky and Rachel - two rugby union fans - was castigated by some fans, but both loved performing the draw and will be attending some of the quarter-final fixtures.

The trophy and balls entered the studio at 0815, the draw was made and Nicky was buzzing at the reaction it provoked from fans on text and Twitter. The programme team have already asked about hosting the semi-final draw, so enthused were they, but I can confirm this will indeed take place in the traditional Sunday evening timeslot after the final televised BBC game.

Leeds coach Brian McDermott texted in to "tell Campbell good job for drawing us at Leigh", while Lauren Dorn - the pregnant wife of London full-back Luke - was upset as she'd demanded a home tie in case she went in to labour. In giving the Broncos Huddersfield away, I've had to strike a deal to drive Luke back to London if Lauren has the baby that weekend.

I expected the RFL to be delighted with the draw, especially the Wigan-St Helens derby, but no sooner had we left the studio was Ledger on on the phone with a real scheduling headache, as Wigan Athletic are home that same weekend.

This debate was still going on with the BBC hierarchy - who have first choice on the main TV game - when I left the office on Thursday.


  • Comment number 1.

    you seem almost shocked that rl fans would have a moan about something!

    what 'true' rl fans would have wanted would have been garry schofield and peter roe doing the draw in front of a random yorkshire landmark on local yorkshire radio at tea-time on a sunday. none of this national audience gubbins.

    since when was 5live 'fast paced'?

  • Comment number 2.

    Appreciate the argument re audience size but there was a slightly patronising tone from Mr Campbell as if he was proud not to know the "grim up north" teams...

    Rugby league needs to strike the balance between appealing to potential new audiences without selling itself too cheaply

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Although it is nice to see that the RFL is doing the draw at new locations, I think we would like a similar time slot as it seem to be drawn at random and we wake to it been drawn whenever and where ever.

    If we have it on one channel, Radio 5, then can we keep the same time slot please.

  • Comment number 5.

    The Challenge Cup has disintegrated into a farce with the Wigan Saints fiasco. Each season there seems to be a mad rush to get rounds 4, 5 and 6 over in a matter of weeks followed by at least two months before the semi-finals. Why does the RL consistently schedule its events up against other major sports? Do they not have a sporting calendar? The start of SL went unnoticed up against the Six Nations, the CC Round 4 when the big clubs join in was up against the FA Cup semis and the Grand National, and now the QFs up against the last weekend of the Premier League. Breweries and booze-ups spring to mind.

  • Comment number 6.

    It was great that the CC draw was on Five Live; excellent exposure for the comp. Totally agree with El Rapide's post above though. The timing of the rounds, year after year, is a shambles. Still, looking forward to the final, always a great day out.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have to buck the trend and say it was great having the draw on 5Live listening to it on the car on the way into work. As George says 8-9 is the absolte prime time for breakfast radio. I know Rachel and Nicky are Union fans but they were entirely respectful in what they were doing. Having George on such a prominent radio show is only beneficial for RL and he gives as good as he gets in the Union/League banter. The debate over the best rugby player in either code they had the other day was great as highlighted the talent in RL.

    Union is slowly suffocating itelf with the number of games and the low quality spectacle of the high profile games over recent seasons.

    You think League is getting a raw end of the deal at least our major cup final is still getting played at the right time on a Saturday afternoon.

  • Comment number 8.

    Surely the issue isn't where and when the draw is made, but the BBC's refusal to publicise it properly. I missed the draw on 5 Live as I was watching 'Breakfast' on BBC1. Surely, I thought, they will announce on TV what happened in the sports bulletin just after 8.30? No mention.

  • Comment number 9.

    Fast paced news and sports programme!! Chortling at each others word play and talking about goldfinches all week is hardly fast paced. The two presenters have zero respect for RL and there's no reason why we should be grateful to them for showing basic respect to our 117 year old great sport. Good exposure though so well done for that.

  • Comment number 10.

    I can't believe the amount of RL fans that whinge when the game gets some high profile exposure. Let George take Nicky to a QF and he'll be hooked.

    As for the schedule problem with Wigan, simple, if a team cannot play on its home ground when it wishes because the owners won't let them then switch the match to the away team's ground.

  • Comment number 11.

    ingselmet, Wigan do want to play at home it is the BBC that are causing all the problems refusing to let the game be played on a Friday night. whilst the BBC must be applauded for the exposure it gives the game especially this year. clubs should be allowed to decide when they play matches and not be beholden to the TV companies (including sky and the Monday night matches surely this will lower attendances and take away the "family appeal" of the game.)

  • Comment number 12.

    Ah, I see my Twitter comment was George's personal favourite!

    My point was similar to that of Neil Merrick's in that the BBC show the games right through to the showpiece final and yet when there was an opportunity to have the draw live on the BBC1 Breakfast news they didn't take it; it just felt like it was an opportunity missed in my opinion (especially as I don't listen to Radio 5 Live).

    This was reinforced in that there was no mention of the draw on the 8.30am sports news. Was there a live stream of the draw on the BBC Sports website I wonder? The fact that the draws have taken place at different times and on different days also hasn't helped.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hello Mike1150, The harsh reality here is that the RFL have a contract with the BBC to cover CC matches at times and dates pre-arranged. Even if the BBC wanted to re-schedule, it would find it difficult, if not impossible, to re-schedule a Friday evening this close to the QF. So if Wigan cannot play on their home ground because of the dominance of the club they share it with and playing at St Helens is too unpalatable, then why not play at a neutral venue. If the BBC are not able to show this match then the whole of the RL community may suffer because when it comes to re-new the contract, the BBC may be forced to reconsider.

  • Comment number 14.

    This scheduling problem for the QFs is all of the RFL's making. They were told in October last year that the weekend of May 12/13 was a period when Wigan could not hold a match and yet they still scheduled the round for then. Now it transpires that the game will be held at Wigan but the away end will be closed because of existing functions booked for that day. Well done RFL, the best foot-shooters in the world!

  • Comment number 15.

    it was a riduclous time no mater how many folk were listening I was at work and had to wait til lunch to get a text message to see who my team were playing Football always has it after a cup game so why cant we The BBC always had a game Saturday and Sunday so have it then Good old Sky stealing our thunder again No wonder the best game in the world is a laughing stock

  • Comment number 16.

    We have to remember that we are not the primary sport in England and have to go along with what the BBC want in terms of airing the game. As RL supporters, we don't exactly back the early rounds of the CC ourselves when we get crowds of 3,500 for a local Saints-Widnes derby game, so how can we call the RFL and BBC.

    If Wigan had earnt the right to a home tie, such as in the play-offs, then I can see the importance of retain the home advantage, but seeing as it was pot luck draw, I would say that if they can't meet the requirements then they have to give up that advantage.

  • Comment number 17.

    On a positive note, it's great to see that RL has won its battle of wills with Premier League footy, although credit should be given to Dave Whelan for waiving Wigan Athletics contractual right.

    On the negative side, dissappointing that due to the scheduling conflict, the away end will be closed. This tie was actually an opportunity to fill a stadium on live BBC TV, something we have failed to do as a sport (away from final)for some time. Given the emphasis placed on appealing to new audiences, what are they supposed to think when they tune in and see empty stands - ''if RL fans can't be bothered, why should I?''

    Given the uncompetitive nature of all non-SL teams except Fev in the Challenge Cup, resultant calls for 'seeding out' Championship teams , and angry response from traditionalists, I'm thinking a compromise is needed, with SL teams playing away at lowest ranked teams in 1st two rounds they play in. Would give Championship teams best chance of winning, and probably get better crowds for TV than we have seen at Widnes, etc. Given the likelihood of SL teams still going through, Exile games could be played on the Friday night, with key players unlikely to be needed to back up like they have been in SL fixtures recently. With hopefully an expanded World Club Challenge coming soon (which is vital for the promotion of our sport), the fixture list has got to give somehow, and I think this is a viable compromise.

    We need to be smarter with the way we schedule the earlier rounds, as they don't seem to appeal to anyone at the moment, but decent crowds at good stadia like Leigh, Halifax, etc would show a depth to our game that many people would not be aware of. And QFs and SFs need to be scheduled as smartly as possible so stadiums are packed for TV.

    With that in mind, both semi-finals at Odsal this year, with proceeds going to Bulls survival fund? Should get the fabled 'RL family' out in force, especially with 2 W Yorkshire teams likely to be in the draw?

  • Comment number 18.

    1)scheduling: the RFL's idiocy of putting games on with other major events happens each year. until there's a cull of the "marketing experts" running things from Red Hall 'twill ever be thus.
    2) the ground conflict with the wendyballers was all of the BBC's making because they insisted on having our game instead of letting Sky show it on Friday.
    3) 5 live has been mentioning the "L" word (through gritted teeth) more recently, so good show & keep it up. BUT if Campbell could have been less interested, he'd have fallen asleep. The innate and endemic Yawnion snobbery at the BBC won't be got rid of for as long as the southers are still in charge there. But it would appear that Rhino Riley is spearheading the 5th column, so there may be hope yet (but i won't hold me breath).


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