Attending to attendances

Attending to attendances

Attending to attendances

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THE Knights finally got reward off the field last week for their ongoing efforts on the field this year - the first four-figure gate at Huntington Stadium for 13 months and only the third since the end of 2011.

It was also the biggest crowd of the season across all of Championship One.

The fact it was still only just over half York’s average attendance of 2005 - the last time the club won the third tier title - probably says as much about the changes in rugby league since then than it does the Knights faithful, with averages tumbling all over the place bar Super League.

The good thing is, this decline in the number of spectators in tiers two and three has seemingly not gone unnoticed by the Rugby Football League, notwithstanding the claims made at the sport’s annual general meeting this week that its popularity was at an “all-time high”.

The popularity that statement seemingly referred to regarded commercial activity, TV viewing figures and last year’s highly successful World Cup, not necessarily bums on seats.

As regards lower-league attendances, RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer stressed extra marketing was to go into promoting the game at all levels.

It remains to be seen what this extra marketing will entail but it is something the Championships have been crying out for, especially in Championship One where expansion clubs may have spread the game outside the heartlands but haven’t got many locals through the turnstiles and surely must be making a loss every week.

Still, hopefully Sunday’s attendance figure at Huntington Stadium - admittedly swelled by a half-decent travelling contingent from Oldham, a rarity at this level - won’t be just a one-off and instead is a sign that things are picking up again, perhaps aided by renewed interest now we have a pathway to Super League again.

Knights boss Gary Thornton certainly hoped so, albeit while staying focused on the team’s “job at hand”.

“We have only two home games left and, if we finish top, we might have only one game in the play-offs – where a win takes you straight to the grand final, which I hope will be the case,” he said.

“We’re really looking to get as many people as possible through the door for these games. Hopefully if we finish top the public of York will see it as a fantastic achievement and get right behind us for the final push in the play-offs.

“We’re looking to create a bit of history for York City Knights – finish as league leaders, win the division and win the play-offs. You have to do it hard in this division. If you finish top you’d hope people will give you a push in the play-offs.”

 

•  THE reintroduction of promotion and relegation to and from Super League must surely help to bolster attendance figures across the sport.

But one problem - albeit a seemingly unavoidable one - that rugby league may well face next year in its attempts to attract bigger gates concerns the likelihood of lopsided scorelines in the new-look Championship.

The issue stems from the need to narrow the financial gap from the bottom of Super League to the top of the second tier, which is currently huge with elite clubs getting £1.2 million of central funding and Championship sides just £90,000. But in narrowing that gap - and thus overcoming the issues associated with the old straight one-up-one-down format (which left clubs in danger of going bust when swapping part-time and full-time status in a matter of weeks) - a new gap appears in the second tier.

Thursday’s media briefing confirmed that, as of 2015, clubs coming down from Super League - such as Bradford and London Broncos this year - will get about £750,000 of funding, while the top Championship clubs will receive up to £550,000.

It’s still a sizeable gap to Super League, whose clubs will receive more than £1.7 million under the new plan, but it does offer Championship big-guns - such as Leigh, Halifax and, if they overcome their current turmoil, Featherstone - a better chance of being full-time and going on to compete with Super League counterparts.

However, the clubs ranked at the bottom of the Championship - such as York should they get promoted - will receive only £150,000, with a sliding scale in between.

Asked if predictable one-sided games were likely between top and bottom given the discrepancies in financial clout, Rimmer admitted it was a “difficult balancing act” - balancing the need to reward merit and make promotion feasible with avoiding large disparity within one division. But he was optimistic the season would be far from a foregone conclusion.

He added: “We’re just talking about central funding, though, and not money the clubs themselves bring in. It (the new system) gives the opportunity for clubs to build year on year. Each club should be able to achieve their aspirations.”

That does offer some hope for clubs like York and indeed a visible pathway - albeit an uphill one which will be far from easy to walk from their starting position.

But it certainly seemed that bridging the gap between the two tiers, and making promotion possible for a select few, was currently of more importance.

The new system sees the top two leagues of 12 split into three mini-leagues of eight at the end of the regular season, with promotion and relegation decided via the middle eight. “It’s key to make the middle eight competitive,” added Rimmer.

RFL general manager Blake Solly, under scrutiny from the media on various issues, said the new format, which has been a long time in the making, followed “extensive consultation and analysis”.

“It was felt we needed to restore promotion and relegation but how do you make sense of the (huge financial) gap between full-time and part-time?” he said.

“We had to produce a system which enables clubs to prepare for life in Super League. This system gives the chance to go between divisions and be sustainable.”

 

• RETURNING to the subject of travelling support in Championship One, it’s fair to say York have more than most and, to that end, KISS - the Knights Independent Supporters’ Club - will be arranging a coach to Cheltenham for the game against Gloucester All Golds a week tomorrow.

It departs the Ainsty at 8.30am, Clarence Street at 8.45am and Huntington Stadium at 9am. Seats will cost between £30 and £40 depending on numbers. To book, phone 07443 564453 before noon on Monday.

 

•  JONNY PRESLEY might not have been getting in York’s team recently but he still has reason to celebrate - and not just his recent 30th birthday.

The clever half-back has just achieved a Masters in social work from Leeds Met University.

Congratulations, Jonny.

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