“If this is your first Super League match then please don’t let it be your last,” pleaded the Broncos PA to the crowd of nearly 4,000 that attended the London club’s first venture into the Garden of England.
The 3,930 spectators comprised regular London fans, a sizeable travelling Hull contingent and a decent proportion of curious locals taking advantage of a break in the football season by taking in a new sport.
They were treated to a close, if scrappy affair that was decided by a late Danny Tickle penalty with both sides scoring two tries each. The second highest attendance for a Broncos home game this season ultimately failed to inspire the Super League’s joint bottom team to end their dreadful run of form, but their expedition into the Home Counties can be viewed as a success.
The club hoped for a minimum attendance of at least 3,000, something that was easily achieved, and although the match wasn’t a great advert for the sport of rugby league, London’s late try and decent first half performance meant that they didn’t lose the crowd.
Indeed, while some looked perplexed by some of the rules and nuances of the game, that many in the Medway stand rose to their feet when Kieran Dixon surged forward in an attempt to score a late winner can be seen as evidence that at least some of those attending their first Super League match were captivated enough.
Many have already received the message, and the organisers were keen to stress that the weekend was a celebration of rugby league in Kent, praising the work done by the Medway Dragons in promoting the sport in the county.
Whether any of the first-time visitors attend a match at the Twickenham Stoop, or anywhere else for that matter, remains to be seen, but if the RFL is serious about expanding the sports reach beyond the heartlands then surely it should ensure that there is regular coverage on national free-to-air television.
The BBC’s live Challenge Cup coverage is of course shown nationally, but the Super League Show is only shown at a sociable hour in the BBC’s northern regions and relegated to a graveyard slot elsewhere, ensuring that it only appeals to students, insomniacs and those with a PVR. Even this is an improvement when you consider that it wasn’t shown in the south at all until 2008.
Given that the main justification for signing the sponsorship deal with Stobart was that it would give the sport more exposure on the haulage company’s fleet of lorries, it seems odd that its contract with the BBC doesn’t prevent the broadcaster from showing a repeat of The Graham Norton Show instead of its highlights programme on Monday nights.
London Broncos’ experiment can be deemed a relative success, but the real challenge remains retaining these new fans. Regular television coverage at a decent hour would be start.