Super League is the top-level professional rugby league club competition in the Northern Hemisphere. Twelve teams compete (the 2020 season included ten from England, one from France and one from Canada), with a one up, one down promotion and relegation.
We knew it as a sport of purpose, honesty and truth. The challenge to us was how to transform a fading image into an exciting and compelling proposition for a new generation of fans.
Taking a bold leap
The evidence shows that despite efforts to reverse the trend, rugby league in the UK had been in decline for some time.
Our early stakeholder meetings with club owners, broadcasters and commercial partners, highlighted how the image of the game had become “tired and cluttered”. Within the wider sporting landscape, rugby league and Super League had become invisible, and as one broadcast executive put it – “the game must change or die”.
For the game to become a valued sporting property it needed a bold new rebrand to remove the confused and outdated image that had restricted its potential for so long.
Defining a compelling truth
To break out of its bubble, the game needed to appeal to new fans outside its traditional heartland.
Research of UK sports fans showed low awareness and understanding of rugby league across the country. This meant the brand priorities needed to include a bold new visual identity to increase visibility and awareness of the brand, and a new positioning to give it clear direction and meaning.
Taking inspiration from the brutal nature of the sport and those who play it, we wanted the new brand to be a celebration of the game’s two great compelling truths: down-to-earth character and superhuman athleticism.
Creating a bold new image
Brand transformation, and a launch date in under ten months, demanded a bold vision and plan.
Our role as both project director and brand strategist would be important to ensuring the project delivered on its strategic objectives.
Having defined the brand strategy, we worked closely with the Super League Marketing, Communications and Commercial teams.
Inspired by the central brand idea: Real/Unreal, we created a distinctive tone of voice to express the spiritual and physical sides of the game. This was further enhanced by Nomad Studio in their work to create a new brand identity.
The new brand symbol, fresh colours and bold typography were created to achieve maximum impact and visibility for the new brand across matchday, digital and broadcast channels.
Throughout the creative process, we worked with Super League and Nomad as a combined team to assist with background briefings, provide strategic guidance, ongoing development and continued engagement of stakeholders.
Bringing people with us
We ran workshops with the Super League leadership team and club owners at the beginning of the project to shape the vision and objectives for the new brand.
Promising early results
The Super League re-brand was launched as part of the build-up to the 2020 season. The bold new brand identity was displayed prominently at every match and across all Super League and club channels. Critically, Sky Sports and BBC Sport also gave their programming an overhaul using the new brand assets.
From the start the signs were promising, with an immediate upturn across match attendance and broadcast viewing figures.
Highest opening day match attendance, up 11.6% on previous year.
Average broadcast audience for Round 1 up 45% on previous year.
Highest single match viewing audience in past 6 years.
The new brand was only part of the transformation.
Exciting changes to teams and players helped increase the profile of the League. The Toronto Wolfpack arrived from Canada joining the Catalan Dragons from South of France, and a cluster of world-class superstars, including Sonny Bill Williams, played for clubs across the League.
New channel formats provided fans with alternative ways to follow the game – Sky introduced a new weekly Super League television show called “Inside Super League” that sat alongside a new 4-part documentary series called “We Play League”. Both created and produced by the Leeds based company The City Talking.
The new brand helped inspire innovations in online and on-demand content that was key to changing the game’s image, as well as reaching fans outside its traditional heartland.
Unfortunately, after such a promising start, the 2020 season was brought to an abrupt halt due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
As is the case for most sports, rugby league faces an uncertain future in a post pandemic era, but with its sharper messaging and eye-catching new image Super League is fit and ready to do battle once again.