With the majority of the 2020 season wiped out in terms of fans being able to attend matches, the return to action behind closed doors has brought another challenge for Super League clubs.
Season ticket holders may have only witnessed two or three home matches, and so a big portion of what they purchased at the start of the year has been undeliverable, through of course no fault of the clubs.
But the economic reality is that these cannot be written off, and clubs have started the process of liaising with their respective fan bases to find the best solution.
Offering refunds in full is likely to be the death knoll for many clubs, so instead they are having to be creative with ideas of providing value to season ticket holders both this year and in future years to minimise a potentially catastrophic situation.
Hull KR owner Neil Hudgell said: “In total, 58% of (our members) indicated that they have been financially affected by the crisis. Our thoughts are with those families who are doing their best in these circumstances to do what is right for them.
“It is fabulous to see so few people have asked for a refund on their memberships and have left them active.
“We are not a rich sport, nor a rich club and I hope you know what a massive difference that makes to us. So, from everyone at the Club thank you for your patience and support over the last few months.
“Based on the survey feedback in membership revenue alone we could be looking at refunds or credits worth £300,000; adding that together with the impact of lost ticket sales, concerts, food and beverage sales, reduced Sky TV funding and hospitality sponsorship, this leaves us in an incredibly precarious position.”
The lockdown has already caused the Robins to be around £500,000 down on their financial forecasts for the year, with estimates that loss could climb up to £2m by 2021.
The return to action will add around £100,000 to their costs for COVID-19 testing alone, although that has been deemed a necessity across Super League to facilitate the return to action and ensure that commercial agreements and notably the broadcast deal with Sky Sports can be fulfilled.
When action returns on August 2, the likelihood is that the majority of the games will be broadcast live – whether that be via Sky Sports or alternative solutions, such as in-house club streaming.
Some clubs hope that this will provide value to their season ticket holders which could help to cut their losses.
Hull FC chairman, Adam Pearson, said: “We remain committed to delivering value to these supporters to try and offset the disappointment of any games they aren’t allowed to attend.
“At the same time, we must try and find a way forward that secures the future of the club whilst we have no income other than our monthly membership scheme.
“We are exploring match day streaming opportunities with Super League to provide live coverage of behind closed doors games – which is hopefully the next best thing – as well as options to make up for lost fixtures which we think are not only fair, but also offer some exciting and rewarding opportunities for our members too!”
Leeds have communicated options to their members, and even with the cancellation of Magic Weekend, were offering fans three options with their tickets – donate to the club, a credit for 2021 or a full refund.
With the announcement from @superleague that the action will return on 2nd August behind closed doors initially, Leeds Rhinos have issued an update for members and ticket holders
➡ Find out all the details here https://t.co/UU6neu7Qze pic.twitter.com/U39iEnWtXk
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) June 26, 2020
Donating to the club gives a membership price freeze for the next three season, plus some other benefits, including a hospitality match day experience and acknowledgement in the club programme.
Price freezes are guaranteed for those who take it as a credit towards a 2021 season ticket, while the refund option is calculated on a pro-rata basis.
St Helens have a slightly different approach, with one of their options being a credit that can be obtained for a season ticket over the next three years.
Clubs are still hoping to play some games in front of limited crowd numbers this season, though it is unlikely to happen before October.
That has led to at least one club sitting tight to see how things pan out, and not yet offering refund options.
On Tuesday, Castleford posted an update that said: “Season Tickets will be valid once crowds are allowed back into The Mend-A-Hose Jungle; Castleford Tigers want to be able to give supporters the best value for their season tickets that they have purchased.
“The Club will announce options for discounts or refunds to Season Ticket holders once we get a clearer view of when crowds will be allowed in attendance to watch matches.”
The financial pressures on clubs, who have asked players to take further pay cuts ahead of their planned return to action, has created a discussion around whether part of the £16m loan promised to the RFL from the government can be turned in to a grant, to ease the burden of taking it.