They do it in union; they do it in the NFL; now Super League are planning on hosting a one-off fixture in London, in a bid to raise the sports’ profile in the capital. The game could be played as early as 2016 according to Super League general manager Blake Solly:
“I am reasonably confident that we’ll have two big Super League sides playing in London in 2016 or, if not, certainly 2017.”
London has been left without a Super League presence following London Broncos relegation from the top flight last season, although the Challenge Cup final has been held at Wembley stadium since 2007. The 90,000 capacity stadium has been touted as a possible venue for a show piece game, along with the Emirates stadium, Loftus Road, the Olympic stadium and Craven Cottage. This year’s Challenge Cup final drew a crowd of 77,914 back in August.
Back in March Saracens defeated Harlequins 39-17 in front of a record crowd for a club rugby union game of 83, 671, and Solly admits it will take some time before Super League can match up to the fifteen a-side game:
“I suspect it will be a long time before we’re doing it on the scale that Premier Rugby does. A Wigan v St Helens or Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC match would be attractive there; I don’t see why in the future we can’t see a game like that which draws huge amounts of people to it as a one-off event.”
2014 saw ten of the fourteen Super League clubs suffer a decline in average attendance figures, including the Broncos, who played their home games at Barnet’s Hive stadium. In what was a turbulent season for the capital club, their average attendance of only 1,295 was the lowest of all the Super League sides.
There is no question that London is one of the most influential places in the world as far as business is concerned, and so gaining exposure for the sport in the Capital could lead to much needed investment and sponsorship in the game. With this in mind it does seem strange that only three months ago Solly was announcing Newcastle’s St James’ Park as the venue for the 2015 Magic Weekend. Surely, supporters of all twelve Super League teams descending on the capital, as well as all twelve teams helping to market the event would have brought more fans to London than a one-off game will. Even the Championship’s equivalent, the Summer Bash, has been awarded to Blackpool, in the north-west.
Hosting a one-off game in London could prove to be a masterstroke and the profile of the game could rise and rise. However, considering there had been a Super League team in London since 1996, these proposals – the year the Broncos will be playing in the Championship – seem a little too late.