Nigel Wood: Rugby League popularity at an all-time high
The popularity of Rugby League is at an all-time high, RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood told the sport’s Annual General Meeting today.
Wood reported a huge increase in the number of people who watched the sport in 2013, healthy growth in participation numbers, more commercial partners coming to the game and new structures that will make every minute matter for every Rugby League club.
And Rugby League World Cup 2013 was critically acclaimed as the best in the tournament’s history with almost half a million tickets sold, a world record crowd for the final at Old Trafford, eight sell-outs and a 76 per cent occupancy rate in the stadiums, both in the sport’s heartlands and around Europe.
The England team that was 20 seconds away from booking its final place in the tournament has built a solid platform of young talented world-class players. And Wood told the AGM in St Helens that the RFL was working with other partners to produce an improved calendar for international competition that will benefit the national team.
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Commercial interest stimulated by the World Cup is converting into actual investment in the sport with the attraction of First Utility as sponsors together with the retention of Specsavers, Alcatel, who are joined by Kingstone Press, Isuzu, Brut, Tetley, Irn Bru, Foxy Bingo, Elonex, ISC and Rhino.
Nearly 39m people watched Rugby League live, either at the ground or on television in the year – more than 40 per cent up on the previous year and participant levels increased across all categories.
In the 16-19 age group participant levels rose by 16%, at adult level there was a 52 per cent increase and university Rugby League participation increased by 20 per cent.
Wood reported a profit for the governing body for the 12th successive financial year. In the financial year 2013, the governing body reported a profit of £120,000 – almost double on the previous year – from a record turnover of £34m. Every year since 2001, the governing body has returned positive financial figures.
Wood said one of the more pleasing developments over the past 12 months has been the considerable reduction of insolvencies or near insolvent events that the sport has endured and records indicate the level of indebtness is at its lowest level for some time.
The RFL’s Policy Review, completed in 2013, had produced a strategy to delivered positive change in the sport across a number of key areas including:
Competition structures and reform
Club sustainability and the appropriate level of RFL support for clubs
Re-engineering Academy, youth and other player production systems
A ‘whole game” philosophy with core principles
The RFL will announce new details of the competition structures for 2015 tomorrow and Wood said he believed the new formats would create an even stronger game.
“Rugby League has an opportunity in 2015 to embrace an exciting new league format where every professional club can see a clear pathway to make progress and where resources are shared proportionately around the sport,” said Wood.
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“In addition youth and Academy Rugby League now has a clear direction of travel. It is in all of the games interests to engage more youngsters in playing the sport and keep more of these youngsters within the sport in the appropriately organised competition frameworks to ensure that each and every child has the best possible chance to develop their potential to the full.
“At the top end of the game, we are convinced that the new formats across the three leading divisions, First Utility Super League, Kingstone Press Championship and Kingstone Press Championship One will provide an environment in which every minute in every competition will matter for all clubs, fans and other stakeholders in the game.
“The game has been strong enough to make some brave decisions and create an environment for our clubs to prosper. Rugby League is now in a strong position and looking forwards with confidence and optimism.”
The AGM also confirmed the appointment of Andrew Farrow as RFL President for 2014-2015, when Dr Paul Morgan will be Vice President.