18th April 2017, 16:05 | therfl

Modernising Rugby League: LeagueNet

Modernising Rugby League: LeagueNet

Major operational changes are taking place across the sport.

Whether it's Super League or under 7s, it takes time and effort to get a Rugby League game played.

Systems need redesigning to meet the needs of busy people, in particular volunteers.

It's not an easy job for the Operations Department at the Rugby Football League or the thousands of volunteers.

Many of the administrative tasks completed at both Professional and Community level are paper-based, at a time when other sports have moved almost all their administration online.

All that is changing.

Since January, over 100 professional and community players have transferred both ways between the Rugby Football League and the NRL

Organisations from around the world bid to provide a new system for the Rugby Football League

In September 2015, the Rugby Football League invested a significant amount of resource into identifying weaknesses in administration throughout the sport and how it could combine many of its existing systems in order to transform the experience for both internal staff and volunteers.

The process was led by Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer, Director of Projects and People Jon Dutton and Systems Manager Richard Donlon and saw organisations from around the world bid to provide a new system for the Rugby Football League.

The successful bid came from SportsTG a company that has worked predominantly with governing bodies in the southern hemisphere to fully utilise technology to improve sports administration.

Richard Donlon commented: "SportsTG have significant experience in the sports industry, not just with the technology we required but also with the significant cultural change with such a big project.

"Significantly, SportsTG already provide their system to the National Rugby League (NRL) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), so this opened up exciting opportunities to work together to improve the international administration of the sport."

SportsTG signed on the dotted line in July 2016 and work started to deliver phase one of the project in time for the start of the 2017 season.

Donlon added: "The timeline was tight to be up and running for the start of the professional and community seasons. Although the technology was available, we were acutely aware that the biggest challenge would be the cultural change, so we decided to divide the work into two key stages."

Phase One had multiple objectives, all of which have been implemented:

  1. Combining the functionality of five existing systems in to one
  2. Have all professional and community players in one database
  3. Deliver online registrations and an appointments system for Match Officials
  4. Take the submission of 19 man squads and team sheets online for the pro-game
  5. Leagues can generate their own fixtures
  6. Allow clubs to input results online
  7. Have online international transfers
  8. Run a pilot scheme for online registrations with a junior league
  9. Run a pilot scheme with a league to manage all their own registrations
  10. Replace plastic cards with online versions

Donlon continued: "From September to December, we delivered around 40 meetings with external stakeholders.

"Around 500 organisations are involved - including leagues, clubs, and match officials societies consisting of around 250,000 people.

"Implementing change for all these people is very challenging, as I believe most people's default position is to question change and Rugby League people are certainly not scared to put their opinions forward.

"Change is needed to save time, money and embrace digital technologies. We have to put the sport in a position where it can meet the needs of existing volunteers and the next generation who will run the game who will expect a fully digital experience."

A pilot scheme is underway in London

Match Officials now receive their appointments online

The new system (known as LeagueNet) went live in January 2017 and there are now over 600 users.

Donlon said: "There has been a lot of hard work from many different people and it is exciting to start to see the benefits.

"A number of leagues and clubs have contacted us to say how easy they have found the system to use and how it is making their life easier. It's good to get feedback - positive or constructive challenges. We are doing this to try to make life easier for users."

One of the biggest changes has been the move from plastic to online cards at the Junior level. "Leagues and clubs used to wait days for the plastic cards to arrive by post.

"Sometimes cards went missing and needed reprinting and all the time young players could not play the game. Thousands of plastic cards were also costing thousands of pounds to produce and send.

"Now, once the registration is processed, we can email the card to the club in minutes meaning we can get more players playing in a shorter period of time.

The changes are game-wide. All professional clubs now have to submit their 19-man squads and complete their team sheets online.

"Even as late as Sunday morning I can log on, register a child and they can play in the afternoon."

Fionna Everson

"The professional clubs have taken to the system well. We will be making more changes to reduce the risk of errors occurring.

"Historically, the Operations department has had to check every player in the 19-man squad to make sure they are eligible for selection. Already, that process is easier for both the club and the Operations department."

It is also helping internationally. "For the first time in 2017, we have seen all the professional and community players in the UK move onto the same system.

"As an added bonus, we are also on the same system as the NRL and NZRL. Players can transfer electronically between countries and take their entire playing history with them in the process.

"Since January, we have seen over 100 professional and community players transfer both ways between the Rugby Football League and the NRL, speeding up the process for everyone involved."

Phase Two will be rolled out for the start of the 2018 season. It involves online registrations for all players and online access for every league and club to be able to view and update their own information.

"Being fully online means all clubs and leagues can see exactly the same information that the Rugby Football League holds. We want data to be transparent and give volunteers everything they need to be able to operate as efficiently as possible," Donlon said.

In preparation for 2018, a pilot scheme is being run with clubs in the London Junior League where all players are registering online.

Donlon added: "Inevitably, with a big project, there have been teething issues - however the response has been good.

"Clubs have told me that it has really helped them with their club administration and saved lots of time. The London pilot is helping us to learn about all the practicalities of online registrations and all the lessons will be applied to Phase Two."

Also involved with piloting LeagueNet at league level are the Hull Youth & District League.

Long-time volunteers Carol Bailey and Fionna Everson have both been using LeagueNet since January to do their own registrations and produce online cards.

From Super League, to under 7s - changes are being made

Plastic ID cards no longer exist

Everson said: "It really has helped the league look after its own data. We no longer have to wait for registrations to be processed and plastic cards to be sent to us.

"Even as late as Sunday morning I can log on, register a child and they can play in the afternoon.

"Not only does it help make administration easier, it also means we can get more children playing the game."

Donlon concluded: "Phase One has gone well.

"Huge thanks to all stakeholders for their hard work.

It is a game-wide commitment to modernise and become more efficient. I am very proud to work with dedicated colleagues and the many volunteers who have really bought into what we are trying to achieve for our sport.

"There's a lot more to do and exciting times on the horizon for everyone involved in the administration of Rugby League."