CROWD TROUBLE? NOT IN RUGBY LEAGUE’S NEW ERA (YET)

The phrase being shoved down our throats in 2015 is ‘every minute matters.’ It is being used time and time again on Sky’s coverage of Super League, it was bandied about copiously during preseason and makes it’s fair share of appearances on social media too. Excellent. Just about any rugby league fan will tell you that the game needs to be marketed better and that it needs as much media exposure as it can get. If a three word phrase is the way in, the definition of the 2015 season of rugby league and the tag line to support the new era of rugby league, then great.

However, in my humble opinion, the throats that this phrase is being shoved down belong to us – rugby league fans; who already support the game, attend matches and are effectively stakeholders in the sport anyway. If you were to utter the words ‘every minute matters’ to somebody without an interest in our great game, I doubt they would associate it with rugby league. I doubt even more, that hearing those three words would motivate them to attend a match. Maybe I’m wrong.

Looking at the attendance figures through the first 18 Super League matches this year, rugby league’s new era, the twelve teams average a crowd of just short of 9,324. The highest attendance of the season so far was at Headingley for Leeds’ game against Widnes on February 13th, when 14,132 spectators saw the Rhinos win convincingly. By this time last year, the majority of teams had completed three rounds. In fact, by March 3rd 2014 there had been 19 Super League matches played. The average gate for these 19 fixtures in 2014 was 8,537, which is 787 less than this year.

A slight increase in 2015, maybe signs early on in the season that this year’s attendances might grow. Interestingly, this season’s attendances have totalled 167,831 across all 18 games. By this stage last year, and after one extra match had been played, the grand total of fans that had attended the games was 5,619 less than it has been in 2015.

I’m not saying that the increase in attendance figures is solely down to a slogan, and I’m not saying that crowd figures will continue to increase throughout the season. The twelve Super League clubs deserve huge credit for their efforts in marketing their home matches, especially in Round One. Over 63,000 people turned out to see the first Super League matches of the season, however total attendances for the following rounds have decreased.

Overall, though, the numbers make positive viewing when compared with last year and the additional spectators have been treated to more competitive and tighter games, statistically speaking anyway. By the end of the third round of Super League matches in 2014, the average winning margin was 18.84 points. I did take into consideration London Broncos, who had barely managed to piece together a squad at this stage last season. In their opening three rounds, the Broncos had suffered 54, 26 and 13 point losses, giving them a points difference of -93. Even without these heavy defeats, the average margin of victory for a Super League team in the first three rounds in 2014 was 16.56 points. Fast forward one year, and the average winning margin in Super League across the opening three rounds is just 13.5 points, suggesting that, on average anyway, this season’s games have been tighter so far.

So, the extra fans that have turned out to watch Super League in rugby league’s new era, when ‘every minute matters,’ have been treated to even closer games and more edge of the seat action. And let’s not forget the World Club Series too!

At the same time, let’s not get to carried away. Overall attendance figures declined by 7,975 from round one to round two this year; and a further 6,521 from round two to round three. Still, the figures from the opening round of matches this year shows what can be achieved in rugby league’s new era.

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