Haskell suggests NFL-style Premiership and says sports won't survive without crowds

Oleh Peter Hanson 6 Oktober 2020 5
Haskell suggests NFL-style Premiership and says sports won't survive without crowds

James Haskell thinks the Premiership should be "ring-fenced" and follow an NFL-style format, while he warned sports in the United Kingdom may be damaged beyond repair if crowds are not brought back to stadiums.

England's top-tier rugby union competition is, as are so many other sporting leagues, facing financial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2019-20 season was able to resume but a spike in COVID-19 infections saw prime minister Boris Johnson put a halt to trials on safely bringing fans back to sporting events.

With so many teams facing money worries, Haskell believes one solution could be to follow the example of the NFL, which uses a franchise system without promotion or relegation, including hosting an annual draft to select top academy prospects.

"I think the problem is where we are at in the world, lots of sports teams are going to fail sadly," Haskell told Stats Perform as part of a promotion for his autobiography 'What a Flanker'.

"The best thing about rugby is the grass roots teaches you so much as a young player, positivity, fun, playing as a team, characters, every local rugby club has characters. 

"Without their enjoyment putting five or six teams out people wouldn't have the love for the sport because it's not a national sport. Without club rugby or glass roots rugby it would disappear because it's not played in enough schools, well it's played in a lot of schools but not enough nationally.

"People in rugby love rugby, people outside don't know anything about it. They always talk about the All Blacks the team that does the dancing, that's about the extent of their knowledge. 

"I think you have two issues here; you're going to lose some Premiership clubs. You need to ring-fence the Premiership and stop thinking the Premiership has anything to do with grass roots because it doesn't - it's an entity, it's a professional body - almost a bit like the NFL in terms of that you have to do what's best for it.

"Even if you lose a couple of teams, make it a 10-team tournament, make it a global season, maybe shorten it. Maybe play one game home and away each, so Saracens away this season, Saracens at home next season - but you would lose some of the revenue with the big derbies so maybe you want to keep it as it is. 

"I'd put a draft system in with the academy, because the team that finished bottom gets the best pick of the academy players so I think that could be fun."

The Premiership was among the leagues to trial bringing fans back to games. Haskell was keen to stress he recognises the challenges caused by the global health situation but believes at some point fans must be allowed to attend otherwise the long-term consequences could be fatal for sport.  

"With grassroots stuff there's no easy solution, the world we're in a massive hole until we get back to normal," he added. 

"What's really frustrating is infection rates are up, death rates are down, more people die now from other stuff. 

"I obviously haven't lost anyone so it's easy for me to say in my ivory tower what's right and what's wrong. 

"But to be completely honest with you we have to take a view on some of this stuff and if death rates are down and pressure on the NHS is diminished I think we have to just crack on because you lose 30 or 40 thousand people to obesity - so I think it's just something to consider. 

"We're sort of clutching at straws and I find it a bit frustrating that we're trying to be all things to all men, government's are trying to do that and it's especially true around.

"I think sport isn't going to survive without crowds. I know Jack Nowell tweeted something about if you want to go to a game go to a game if you don't want to go to a game [then don't], then someone pointed out she was young and susceptible so if everyone went to a game it would increase her chances of her getting it. 

"So, you have to consider people's lives, but the world is going to fall apart, or is falling apart, or has fallen apart and at some point we have to be sensible and in sport if you don't have crowds there's going to be loads of people falling apart."

James Haskell’s autobiography What a Flanker! is now available through HarperCollins.

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Peter Hanson