Nationwide survey shows rugby league fans feel shut out and let down

James Gordon

Fans start to arrive at the AJ Bell Stadium

A nationwide survey of fans of rugby league’s top three divisions by has shown that the vast majority of fans feel cut off from decisions at both their club and the governing bodies – Super League and the RFL.

Fan engagement experts Think Fan Engagement carried out the survey in June and July this year, covering the English and Welsh clubs in Super League, Championship and League One.

Though a few fans felt their clubs listened to them, the vast majority report a negative view of the way clubs engage & communicate with them. Many were scathing at how ignored they are in major decisions, including rebranding, changes of identity and name and stadium relocations.

Other major issues included the RFL’s poor engagement with fans, and broadcaster Sky Sports changing kick-off times – something fans of football have themselves regularly complained about for years.

Kevin Rye, from Think Fan Engagement, said: “Just a casual conversation with a fan of a club in Rugby League will tell you that fans feel disconnected, disengaged with.

“What’s even more concerning at a time that everyone in the sport admits is critical for its future as a professional game, is that the governing bodies come out with almost no credit. The responses from fans are in many cases despairing, recognising the need for leadership, but lamenting the lack of it at a critical time.

“As someone who is largely an outsider to the sport, what comes across most in all the research so far, is that it’s a sport that isn’t comfortable in its own skin.

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“Many of those in charge across the game seem to be almost embarrassed at it, lacking in confidence somehow. I don’t get that from the fans who completed this survey, who clearly love and cherish their clubs and what is a wonderful sport that unites communities, and which has an extraordinary origin story.

“My message to everyone in the sport is what many of those fans surveyed have said: listen, work with them, engage with them, and start by appreciating the sport for what it is.”

Headline findings from the survey:

  • 72% don’t agree that their club takes their views into account in the decisions it makes (e.g. ticketing, fixture rescheduling, changes to badge or rebranding).
  • 87% of those who support clubs who say they have had ‘changes of name, badge or brand in the last five years’, say they were not asked their views about such a change.
  • 88.5% agree that as part of any change to the name, badge or brand of their Rugby League club, supporters of that club should always be given the final say
  • 81.8% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on changes to the name, badge or branding of the club
  • 60% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on ticket prices or proposals for the relocation of supporters within the stadium
  • 73.6% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on stadium relocations
  • Fans overwhelmingly agree (93%) that all fans should have a right to be formally consulted by The RFL or Super League on major issues in the game that directly affect them. This might include, for example, a proposal for Rugby League to change back to a Winter sport.