Championship Focus: How London Broncos bid to raise profile and attract new fans

LONDON BRONCOS are stepping up their campaign to get noticed in the capital amid IMG’s indication that finally getting a foothold for Rugby League there is a focal point for the strategic partner brought in by the governing body to ‘re-imagine’ the game.

England’s World Cup semi-final clash with Samoa in November drew more than 40,000 to Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium.

But the Broncos’ average attendance for the 2022 Championship season at the Cherry Red Records Stadium in Wimbledon was only 935, while League One side London Skolars’ figure at the New River Stadium in Haringey was 300.

IMG’s Matt Dwyer recently said: “From the (World Cup) semi-final, that was a good crowd and there was a lot of interest (in the match).

“The thing that surprised us is when we looked at the data, you took the names off the cities and looked at participation, interest and a few other metrics, London was at the top. 

“Participation and interest (in Rugby League) is very positive, but we’re going to need a club that’s competitive.”

The Broncos have existed since 1980, when they were formed as Fulham, and in their first season, drew an average attendance of 6,096 to Craven Cottage, one of a number of venues used over the years.

But having been continuous members for the first 19 seasons of Super League,  since relegation in 2014, they have spent just one year (2019) at the top level, and gates have plummeted.

Dwyer added: “We’re not saying London for the sake of it because it’s London. 

“We’re saying it because there’s a future there and what we’ve seen suggests it.

“For us, the next step is revisiting the past. London hasn’t worked out how people would have liked. And what could we learn from that?

“It’s a long-term project; we’re not going to be able to click our fingers and 20,000 will turn up to watch London Broncos. But it’s got the right foundations.”

It’s a second season at the ground shared with football club AFC Wimbledon for the Broncos, whose Academy continues to draw talent from all over the capital and supply players to the first-team squad.

After guiding his charges away from the threat of relegation to League One with seven wins in 15 games as interim coach after succeeding Jermaine Coleman in May, former head of performance Mike Eccles has been handed the reins for 2023, and has reshaped the squad.

Calum Gahan, the Australian-born Scotland hooker who has joined Toulouse, Bradford-bound forward Brad Foster, versatile Fiji back Sitiveni Moceidreke, Italy centre or second row Ronny Palumbo and Greece prop Rob Tuliatu, now at Newcastle, have all left.

But Eccles has retained other big hitters like props Wellington Albert (who played for Papua New Guinea at the World Cup) and Lewis Bienek, hooker Sam Davis, Wales back Dalton Grant, halfback Oliver Leyland, stalwart centre or second rower Will Lovell, fullback or winger Iliess Macani, Italy hooker Dean Parata, Cook Islands winger Paul Ulberg, Scotland fullback Alex Walker and frontrower Jordan Williams.

And he’s added Australian fullback Jarred Bassett, a hit at London Skolars in 2022, Italy centre or back row Ethan Natoli from Newtown Jets, Fiji halfback Henry Raiwalui from Wentworthville Magpies and York forward Marcus Stock.

Hopes of a big improvement on last year’s eleventh-placed finish are high, and head of commercial Mark Kemp is doing all he can to raise the club’s profile.

With the Championship kick-off looming – the Broncos host Batley on Sunday, February 5 – season-opener posters have been distributed to a string of retail outlets as part of a number of initiatives, which includes the chance to win a VIP box for ten for the first match.

The Broncos are also launching a matchday fan village at their ground.

It will act as a social hub for supporters of all ages with food and drink outlets, rugby-based activities for children, player visits and the return of club mascots Buck and Dusty.

Kemp said: “We’re determined to be at the forefront of Rugby League’s development in London.

“We want to establish the Cherry Red Records Stadium as the place to be in Wimbledon on a Sunday afternoon.

“This will not be a quick process, but by going back to the basics and placing fan engagement and their overall matchday experience at the top of our list of priorities, we hope to generate a day out everyone can enjoy.”