The crowd at Old Trafford at the weekend was the lowest a Grand Final has seen there since 1998.
The 45,177 figure was impacted, compared to usual, by Catalans involvement – particularly given the current travel restrictions and the short notice.
Had, say, Leeds or Wigan made it, the figure may well have been 10,000 or so more.
But ultimately, the issue is that the neutral pound is being stretched further than it ever has before.
Crunching the numbers
|Year||Grand Final||Challenge Cup||Magic Weekend*||Average**|
*Magic Weekend figure shows total attendance across both days
**the overall average is calculated by taking the three total attendances and dividing by four days (taking into account the two days of Magic Weekend)
The Challenge Cup final attendance peaked for the match between Warrington and Leeds in 2010, while the Grand Final high came in 2015 – when Leeds beat Wigan.
Magic Weekend’s best recorded total attendance was at St James’ Park in 2016.
Back in 2004, there was a Challenge Cup final at Wembley in May and then the Grand Final at Old Trafford in October.
Fast forward to today, and your average Super League fan is having to shell out on a trip to France and Magic Weekend to follow their team, as well as consider being a neutral at Wembley or Old Trafford.
With purse-strings tightening, and of course COVID, we may now be seeing the full impact of that.
That’s without considering a portion of neutral fans have been alienated for one reason or another during that time.
Fans of Championship and League 1 clubs in general might be reluctant to support Super League events owing to the noises around central funding and cutting adrift certain clubs.
Bradford, Castleford and Hull KR fans may still be a bit miffed with the powers that be following attempts to de-classify their academies.
Even community rugby league participants may vote with their feet and not attend in protest at the new membership fee being rolled out.
What’s becoming clearer is that the sport cannot simply rely on the same fans turning out for every big event it does.
The figures look to be on a decline because people are deciding between Wembley, Magic or Old Trafford.
This new low at least gives Super League’s marketing people the chance to reset and gradually grow the crowd back up to where it ought to be.
Those who didn’t attend, for whatever reason, missed out on a competitive final.
It will now be able how rugby league can attract new fans to pad out the numbers – sitting alongside the supporters of both participating clubs and the declining neutral fan numbers.
There has been a noticeable decline across major rugby league events since 2017 – it remains to be seen what the plan is to correct that.
But take the positives – it was 45,177 more than attended last year.
A record attendance
A more significant Grand Final attendance was highlighted by long-time champions of the women’s game, Forty-20 live, over the weekend.
More in at Headingley today than at the #WSL Manchester Derby yesterday. (4235 to 3797)
— Forty20LIVE – Rugby League Podcasts & Videos (@Forty20LIVE) October 10, 2021
The 4,235 that watched St Helens win the Women’s Super League at Headingley was a new record women’s rugby league attendance in the UK.
Not only that – but it bettered the 3,797 that watched the Manchester derby between United and City at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday, which was broadcast live on BBC.
Given the vast resources and coverage afforded to women’s football, rugby league’s achievement should not go unnoticed.