Mailbox: Rugby league marketing needs to target lapsed fans

the latest mailbox on rugby league marketing

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Get your letters in now via email to:

This week’s letter

Hi James,

I am sure you will have hundreds of emails on this article on rugby league marketing, but as James the Marketing Consultant and not James the Catalans fan and average touch player I would like to share my view.

I think that broadly speaking the article is on the money. A decent strategy with a mix of actions underneath will always deliver results.

There are a couple of things I would say in addition.

Firstly the whole idea of targeted customers is key to the success or otherwise of the sport. Even when you sign up a “Client” as they buy a ticket, the GDPR regulations mean that they have to opt in to being contacted or marketed to. There is always that little box that you hover over before completing a transaction or registration. As a marketer I am desperate for you to opt in !

If you sell 5000 tickets to a match the dropout rates of people opting out means you won’t ever have 5000 people to send an offer or an email about the club’s new shirt to. It’s always seen as a dirty part of marketing, but the RFL should be buying databases of potential fans. The way you market to existing fans is one thing, prospecting for new ones is another.

There are ways of creating lookalike ‘audiences’ based on other behaviours that a family (for example) might show and the cross selling them into RL. e.g. Family 1 buys tickets for rugby league, shops at JD sports and eats at Five Guys. Family 2 shops at JD and eats at Five Guys but hasn’t been to a match. You target them as you have better odds based on those other characteristics.

Different to retail

Secondly, the most important part of any customer database are the people who are on it but haven’t interacted for some time. What went wrong? Where is their leisure spend going now? What would we need to do to get them back?

Sport is different to retail, so this should be easier. People change supermarkets or energy providers regularly. They don’t change the team or country they support.

In marketing speak they lapse as opposed to switching. So you have a much better chance of winning them back as they still have a level of loyalty and engagement with you.

It’s a great topic and one I could spend hours offering my ideas up on. It’s interesting to see Castleford recruiting a ‘Head of Fan Experience’ and this way of retain and recruiting described above should be key to the success of that post.

James W

Editor’s comment: It is time that rugby league rolled its sleeves up and started doing things properly. Fans and sponsors aren’t going to come themselves. It’s no longer a case of building it and they will come. There are millions of things to compete with.

One club is due to announce a rugby league first this week which perhaps might give an indication that they are thinking outside the box for growing their fanbase. Time will tell if approach to rugby league marketing will change.

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Get your letters in now via email to:


  1. The lack of direction, by all the governing powers (Northern Hemisphere) is the reason I no longer follow with pride the sport that I enjoyed. I was already deciding to rid myself of Sky Sports (no sports channel for 12 months now), because of their none promotion of the sport and stale presentation it gives. I understand why the sport doesn’t get followed outside the heartlands as when spending considerable time outside of the rugby league catchment areas (still in the UK) there is no exposure apart from the advertisement in the middle or just before a game.
    The game needs an injection of youth and experience of the modern game in the governing boardroom and to find out what fans want to watch, not what some fat cat might get in there back pocket, for a decision. Why after 25+ years are certain clubs still allowed to play in antiquated stadiums when the whole process of the Super League was to embrace change and move forward to enhance the fan experience? Clubs have been refused promotion in the past due to the criteria laid down when Super League started.
    Why haven’t every club in Super League got access to Video Referee setup, when not shown on TV? The game has had 25+ years to implement a solution to this and make the game equal and fair across the board.
    Owners of clubs spend a lot of their own funds and time to the sport and how the clubs are run, what do the governing bodies do with all that? Are they on an equal footing or just take the revenue?
    I only watch highlights on YouTube now and no longer buy stock from my hometown team as the whole experience as deluded me, especially in the past 5 years.
    Too many game management/rules changes and lack of leadership from the top is destroying the game, and until the deadwood in the governing bodies move the game will die a slow death in my opinion. (I don’t want that to happen)

  2. Wigan are really bad at communicating with current fans, let alone trying to attract new fans. I completed a keep in touch form on the Wigan website and still haven’t had anything from them.
    Clubs like Warrington seem to have more on line content and seem to interact with their fans. Clubs need to look at modern marketing and communication if the game is to survive as the RFL won’t do it for them.

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