RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood is celebrating 20 years of Super League on its birthday which comes exactly 20 years after Paris St Germain and Sheffield Eagles played the first game of Super League at the Stade Charlety in Paris.
PSG won that game 30-24 in front of 17,873 spectators, and Wood himself hosted the second game of the new era as the CEO of Halifax, who went down 22-24 against London Broncos at the club’s former Thrum Hall stadium.
Wood, who League Express understands has signed a new contract with the RFL, is delighted with the progress made by Rugby League in the Super League era.
“I could quote lots of statistics about 800,000 watching in 1996 and two million people watching the game in 2016 in high-calibre stadium facilities,” Wood told League Express.
“The most profound is that in 1995 there were probably 40 full-time athletes. If you wanted a career as a full-time Rugby League player you had to play at Wigan or Leeds.
“But now we have more than 400 full-time Rugby League athletes across 15 or 16 clubs, with all the support staff, sports science, nutrition, strength and conditioning.
“An industry has been built that didn’t exist before.
“Right now it’s a £100 million industry and more. Men and women can target a career in Rugby League in a way that was impossible in the early nineties.”
Wood concedes, however, that Rugby League’s commercial performance can improve.
“We do want to attract new investors and sponsors, and the best way to attract them is to have a financially stable league,” said Wood.
“Super League now is in better shape than for some time. We want to attract rational investment more than emotional investment. And when we collect the financial returns for 2014 and 2015 we’ll see further improvements.
“The sponsors the sport has, both centrally and at club level, are great sponsors and very high calibre.
“The commercial market is changing all the time. Other sports have challenges, as we do.”
One such sport is swimming, with Wood having recently joined the board of Swimming Championships 2016 Limited as a non-executive director in order to advise on the organisation of the European Aquatics Championships, which will take place in May in London. Wood now has to take an interest in diving, synchronised swimming and open-water swimming, as well as Rugby League.