Rugby League: League loses its bold marketeer

Dave Hadfield looks at the influence of Peter Deakin on the prospective champions
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The Independent Online
It would have been ironic if the Bradford Bulls had clinched the Stones Super League title on the very weekend that one of the architects of their remarkable rise is lost to the game as a whole.

Peter Deakin was marketing manager at Odsal for two years, but his influence at the club went far beyond the bounds suggested by that job description.

For one thing, he had much to do with bringing Brian Smith to the Bulls as coach - the move that revolutionised them on the field and set the standards, since maintained by Matthew Elliott, that will bring them the title, not now against Leeds today, but almost certainly next weekend.

For another, he set the style and tone of the match-day package that makes them not just another successful rugby club, but a different type of operation.

Six weeks ago, Deakin moved onward and upward, to become marketing guru for Rugby League (Europe), the marketing arm of the 12 Super League clubs. Now, with what is bound to look like indecent haste, he is not merely changing jobs but changing sports by accepting an offer he could not ultimately refuse to be commercial and marketing director at Saracens.

The man who was briefly his boss, RLE's chief executive, Colin Myler, does not blame him for taking the carrot. "They had already made him one very big offer before he came here and, unfortunately, they have been very persistent," he said.

Saracens have looked at what Deakin did for a moribund club in West Yorkshire and have decided that his ideas can be transplanted to Watford. It looks bad for league when a man with his roots so deep in the game is playing for the opposition.

Neither Deakin nor his conception of how to run a rugby club are to everyone's taste. The powerful American influence revealed by his habit of calling people "buddy" sticks in some throats and he once responded to observations on the entertainment which surrounded the match at Bradford by saying: "It's not crass. It cost a lot of money."

There is simply no doubting his energy and effectiveness, however. Both Bradford and the game at large will now have to manage without his singular flair for making a club and a match an attractive proposition; and both will miss it.

Deakin does not want to depart bad-mouthing the game, but it is clear that it is his six weeks at League Headquarters rather than his two years at Bradford which made him open to offers.

"I had a bigger marketing budget at Bradford than I did at RLE. If my going shakes the clubs up and makes them get serious about what needs to be done, then it might do some good," he said. "But I don't believe the will is there under the present structure. It was also an incredible opportunity that I could not turn down - and it might not even be the end of Peter Deakin in rugby league."

That is an intriguing hint to drop in, with its veiled suggestion that Saracens might be interested in dipping their toes in a cross-code venture, thus giving London a second professional club. That is the sort of challenge that could make Deakin drop everything.

In the meantime, he is entitled to his share of the satisfaction if Bradford beat Leeds tonight to lift the Super League trophy. They might possibly have done it without his input, but they would most certainly not have done it in the same, startling way.