QRL CEO Rohan Sawyer

Exclusive: QRL CEO Rohan Sawyer Talks Growing The Women’s Game

he Ministry of Sport Women in Sport Summit 2021 took place on Friday, June 25 at USC Stadium, delivered in partnership with Sunshine Coast Lightning and Tourism and Events Queensland.

Queensland Rugby League (QRL) CEO, Rohan Sawyer, spoke at the event on the challenges and rewards of growing the women’s game ahead of the 2021 Women’s State of Origin.

Speaking on setting up the top competition for women’s rugby league in Queensland, the BHP Premiership, Sawyer noted the difficulties in developing the women’s game at such a fast pace.

“We sat down with 100 people in the game, outside the game, and across business to really understand the challenges of the female game which I think helped set us up for future success by having as much information on hand as we did it,” Sawyer told Ministry of Sport.

“We obviously set that competition up in 2020 but we missed out because of COVID so in 2021 we stood back up again but we probably accelerated the programme a little bit too quickly in the sense of the number of teams that we had.

“The talent base was there but being dislocated, as well from a Queensland perspective, it’s not easy to get that talent all in one spot so we had some challenges.

“I think as much as you want to grow the game you need to grow up within its means as well.

“There’s nothing wrong I guess with having huge aspirations of pushing really hard but the last thing you want to do is see a pillar of your strategy fail particularly at that sub-elite level because it could be detrimental to future growth.

“We put a team in [the BHP Premiership] ourselves, to rectify that challenge, and what you’ll see tonight is probably seventeen of the most elite athletes in Australia go head-to-head in a state of origin match which is a product of our BHP premiership,” he said.

After channel nine’s broadcast rights deal with Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup finished this year, QRL seized the opportunity to be host broadcaster across the game.

“[The broadcast rights] allowed us to produce and broadcast the BHP premiership as well which is huge exciting for us, not only does it give us the opportunity to provide the content on a national basis to everyone out there but it also allows us to promote the pathway, promote the strategy and obviously engages in new audiences” Sawyer said.

“The grand final itself was our highest rating game and probably exceeded expectations further than we thought.

“No doubt as we continue to evolve our broadcast capabilities, we’re looking to bring in some U19s games next year and any of our city/country challenges that we have in the female game as well.

“Being the host broadcaster that means that we can actually provide more content in the female game more often,” he said.

Sawyer said being the host broadcaster will have a “massive impact” on female grassroots sports by giving young girls the ability to watch their role models play on the big stage.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it and I think you’ll see here tonight [at the Women’s State of Origin], the crowd predominantly is a young female crowd,” Sawyer said.

“They have the ability to see their heroes in Maroons jerseys playing this huge stadium in front of full crowds there be a million people around Australia watching it tonight.

“So from a grassroots perspective, and I know from my time in sports I think most people in sport, you have idols, you have heroes but if you can’t see them, how can you be them?

“I think that helps build participation, but I think it keeps people more engaged because they know that there is something exciting to get to,” he said.

On the possibility of expanding the Women’s State of Origin to a three-game series, Sawyer said he believes “one game is probably not enough” but is wary of “growing the game at the right time.”

“I think there’s an option next year to go to a two game and I know that 1-1 doesn’t really work and the shield holder might keep it.

“But I think whether it’s two or three, I know broadcasters would love it and I know the fans would love it,” he said.

Over the coming weeks, Ministry of Sport will be releasing video footage from the Women in Sport Summit 2021, including Rohan Sawyers speech on developing women’s rugby league in Queensland.