Deals should be under microscope

THERE has been plenty of public discussion about the merits or otherwise of the sponsorship deal Super League have struck with the transport firm Stobart.

On the one hand, Stobart’s have not paid a penny for the competition’s naming rights; a rather obvious flaw which apparently led to five of the top flight teams voting against the deal.

On the other, Rugby Football League big boss Richard Lewis tells us Stobart are a ‘superbrand’, while his wingman Nigel Wood valued the arrangement - which will see Super League branding crawling around the motorway network on a selection of the firm’s HGVs - at £2million.

I have two observations.

The first is that the game has made a rod for its own back when it comes to future commercial deals.

When you’ve given something away for nowt, which, despite the bluster, is what has happened here, it’s more difficult to start charging for it next time round.

More importantly, my spies at the Super League launch in Manchester tell me the deal was also a flop when measured against that crucial journalistic benchmark: the freebie-ometer.

Back in the day, the Press corps used to leave Old Trafford in January laden with a dazzling selection of branded fleeces, hats, laptop bags and polo shirts.

This year, the sum total of the swag was a Stobart carrier bag with the competition’s media guide inside it.

“It wasn’t even a bag for life,” bemoaned my source.

TALKING of deals, the Rugby Football League’s purchase of Odsal from Bradford Bulls rather snuck under the radar of public scrutiny.

A perfectly-timed Press release - sent out at hometime on a Wednesday - talked of ‘predatory approaches’ for the former rubbish dump and suggested it was normal practice for the game’s governing body to go around buying up stadia from its member clubs.

Be that as it may, and perhaps I’m just too prone to conspiracy theories, the whole thing smells a little fishy.

Why would the sport’s governing body feel the need to inject what, presumably, is at least a six-figure sum into the coffers of one of its most iconic - but since the Iestyn Harris affair, no longer one of its wealthiest - clubs on the eve of the new season?

Answers on a postcard, please.

ON the field, the opening weekend of the new season confirmed a few things.

At the bottom of the ladder, the expected three-way battle between Widnes, Salford and the Bulls to dodge the wooden spoon looks like being one of the more intriguing sub-plots.

Huddersfield’s stunning win at Wigan - achieved partially thanks to a magnificent non-stop 67 minutes effort at prop from young Jacob Fairbank - was definitely the result of the weekend, although I’d be surprised if anyone was tipping the Warriors’ demise just yet.

And Trent Robinson’s Catalans easy win at Odsal did nothing to undermine the expectation they will be the year’s big improvers.