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After 40 years have we finally given up on cracking the London market?


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The move of London Broncos to AFC Wimbledon is obviously another opportunity to try and tap into a different London market. Structurally AFC are more similar to a rugby league club than a Premiership football team - but their success will be measured in how they get people through the gate. So far the promotion I've seen seems to be restricted to a few old fashioned style posters on trains with little attempt to generate a new type of supporter to the ground. 

More broadly, have we generally given up on cracking the London market? We once, as a game, put a serious amount of strategic importance on developing that London market to generate newspaper columns, extra investment etc. There was that sense that a London club could, in itself, change the stereotypes and image problems that the game has held. We no longer talk of them doing so.  Have we decided that it is a luxury we cannot afford? What are we doing to attract those who will attend the Challenge Cup final and the RLWC semis to Wimbledon? Is it going to be a club for ex-pat northerners or something for the people of Wimbledon? 

The lack of outcry over the move to part-time status is a signal - if it was needed - that they are no longer of strategic importance to the rest of the sport. Does the bring opportunities or is it the final nail in the coffin? Would love to hear the thoughts as the club moves into a new era 

Here are some thoughts I've put together on the last 40 years of the Broncos - a real pleasure to go back and look at the early days as Fulham and the opportunities that it created. I wish them all the best for the future 

https://thecritic.co.uk/southern-discomfort/

 

 

 

 

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This we, and I presume by that you mean the wider game and RFL, does absolutely nothing to develop the game in London. I'm not sure if it ever did, bar paying a little lip service with the odd development officer. London Broncos did well when they had the private owners putting in money to back them, the likes of Brisbane, Branson and now only survive with the backing of Hughes. I'm not sure how much the game has ever done.

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On cue with my post on the WWR thread, I don't think the sport has ever accepted how to do London "properly".

That said, I think at the moment the success of the Sport in London is not seen as being wholly tied to that of the London Broncos Club itself in the way it once was. Perhaps in time it may do again.

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18 minutes ago, Tides Of History said:

The move of London Broncos to AFC Wimbledon is obviously another opportunity to try and tap into a different London market. Structurally AFC are more similar to a rugby league club than a Premiership football team - but their success will be measured in how they get people through the gate. So far the promotion I've seen seems to be restricted to a few old fashioned style posters on trains with little attempt to generate a new type of supporter to the ground. 

More broadly, have we generally given up on cracking the London market? We once, as a game, put a serious amount of strategic importance on developing that London market to generate newspaper columns, extra investment etc. There was that sense that a London club could, in itself, change the stereotypes and image problems that the game has held. We no longer talk of them doing so.  Have we decided that it is a luxury we cannot afford? What are we doing to attract those who will attend the Challenge Cup final and the RLWC semis to Wimbledon? Is it going to be a club for ex-pat northerners or something for the people of Wimbledon? 

The lack of outcry over the move to part-time status is a signal - if it was needed - that they are no longer of strategic importance to the rest of the sport. Does the bring opportunities or is it the final nail in the coffin? Would love to hear the thoughts as the club moves into a new era 

Here are some thoughts I've put together on the last 40 years of the Broncos - a real pleasure to go back and look at the early days as Fulham and the opportunities that it created. I wish them all the best for the future 

https://thecritic.co.uk/southern-discomfort/

 

 

 

 

Interesting article 👍 

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4 minutes ago, Damien said:

This we, and I presume by that you mean the wider game and RFL, 

This is the core of the issue when it comes to any expansion effort really. 

I'll preface this by saying that cuts in Sport England funding hasn't helped here, but "we" don't really do a lot on this front. 

What tends to happen is a narrative of "we're expanding to...." or "we're investing in....." or "we've tried in ..... and it hasn't worked" is established when, in truth, the vast majority of these efforts have been delegated to the clubs in those regions and a small number of (very passionate and committed) owners like David Hughes - who have all of the existing day-to-day challenges of the heartland clubs, with this added burden of "growing the game" with very little support. 

It's why phrases like "the Catalans haven't done anything to improve the French team" are as unfair on the Catalans as it is to blame Hull KR for the fact that England can't beat Australia. Catalans are there to exist as a successful club in their own right and follow the same rules as everyone else to do that - their obligation isn't to the FFRXIII. We even seem to put the responsibility of selling media rights in France on the Catalans now, which just sums up how nobody at Red Hall / Manchester really wants to grasp this issue. 

Likewise with Magic Weekend - just rocking up and bringing the circus to town isn't really "expansion", but we still have claims like "we went to Cardiff all those years and we still don't have a club there!". 

The real issue here is that everybody sees expansion (certainly in the geographic sense, but arguably in other senses too) as "not their problem". The clubs don't want to do it, SLE clearly can't or won't do it and the RFL doesn't have the funding to do it. We then have this finger pointing going on - fans blaming the RFL for poor TV deals when it's really the fault of SLE, the clubs blaming the RFL for poor marketing when it's really the fault of the clubs, people blaming the Broncos for poor international crowds in London when it's the really the fault of the RFL..... and so it goes on. 

If either Super League Europe or the RFL is serious about geographic expansion, it has to take on that responsibility. It can't rely on delegating this to whichever "outpost" clubs we happen to have. 

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When was the last time the sport, or to be more precise, the governing bodies, did anything for London? It’s an argument against them that I’ve heard over the years that “we’ve” done enough for London but I genuinely haven’t a clue what The RFL have done for London, whether the Broncos, Skolars or wider game there. 

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19 minutes ago, whatmichaelsays said:

If either Super League Europe or the RFL is serious about geographic expansion, it has to take on that responsibility. It can't rely on delegating this to whichever "outpost" clubs we happen to have. 

I was about to write something but this is it. 

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A city of 9 million people so for the sake of rugby league I would say they should never give up. Just think of the potential talent. I grew up in London and the only sport we ever played outside of school was football. Union is big in SW London but that is about it. Here's the problem though. Skolars are the only junior club in North London which isn't ideal for anyone living west of Barnet. The default code in schools is union. RFL needs to stop delegating to clubs and come up with its strategy. Get the sport into schools. Fund development officers. Set up new community clubs if necessary.

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Unless you have a franchise or we expand SL so an investor could come in and make it more likely they get there I´m not sure what we are supposed to do now. The amount of money to even part own somewhere so they aren´t constantly at the mercy (Broncos this is) of being shuffled has now disappeared since price explosions since 2000.

So unless the RFL is going to get on the phone to every borough in London to find a 5000 capacity facility they can joint own bring up to standard then the ship has sailed I feel. Without infrastructure , all the rest is worthless. 

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The Northern clubs, who control the RFL, don’t want London, it’s too far for them to travel and they won’t get the income from the 250 or so Wakey / Salford fans who travel away. That I’m afraid is the crux of it, the fact that the Broncos, Skolars and the numerous amateur clubs even exist is in-spite of rather than because of the RL establishment, it’s like the sport is stuck in a pre-Victorian time warp where trains haven’t been invented yet. 

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7 minutes ago, Eddie said:

The Northern clubs, who control the RFL, don’t want London, it’s too far for them to travel and they won’t get the income from the 250 or so Wakey / Salford fans who travel away. That I’m afraid is the crux of it, the fact that the Broncos, Skolars and the numerous amateur clubs even exist is in-spite of rather than because of the RL establishment, it’s like the sport is stuck in a pre-Victorian time warp where trains haven’t been invented yet. 

Don't understand this at all. There are hourly trains to London. Wakefield is served by LNER. Football fans have no problem with travelling. QPR have to travel to Barnsley and Blackburn next month.

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Skolars play this Saturday and Broncos on Sunday. I would be surprised if there were more than 1,000 Londoners paying to watch both those games, probably less including some hardy souls who will watch both games (!)

Eddie is right that RL has a foothold in London's  due to the hard work of both clubs and a dedicated hardy, albeit diminishing, dedicated band of fans*. Without resources over the long term I really do not see how RL will break through - or survive here. There is an opportunity this year with both the CC and WC semi at Tottenham's ground to use these to raise the profile of the sport (for example in local media). Will there be a concerted campaign beyond trying to get people to those games? Will it instead be left to the clubs to promote themselves (with zero funding)?

*We probably need to distinguish expat northerners living in London who support a heartland team and would not watch a London based team (I have met some of these as away fans) and people like me who is from the south and will follow a northern club - although if things don't improve I am thinking of adopting a northern team and watching them!

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7 minutes ago, NW10LDN said:

Don't understand this at all. There are hourly trains to London. Wakefield is served by LNER. Football fans have no problem with travelling. QPR have to travel to Barnsley and Blackburn next month.

I guess the issue is London fan base is small, with a proportionally few going to away games. When I saw Skolars at Newcastle my son and I constituted the whole sway following! Mind you we contributed a fair amount to the bar!!

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Just now, EssexRL said:

I guess the issue is London fan base is small, with a proportionally few going to away games. When I saw Skolars at Newcastle my son and I constituted the whole sway following! Mind you we contributed a fair amount to the bar!!

But you still see this attitude even if the Broncos were in the Super League.

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23 minutes ago, Eddie said:

The Northern clubs, who control the RFL, don’t want London, it’s too far for them to travel and they won’t get the income from the 250 or so Wakey / Salford fans who travel away. That I’m afraid is the crux of it, the fact that the Broncos, Skolars and the numerous amateur clubs even exist is in-spite of rather than because of the RL establishment, it’s like the sport is stuck in a pre-Victorian time warp where trains haven’t been invented yet. 

It’s this sort of baseless theory I’m on about. The “we’s” and the conspiracy theories amongst Rugby League fans is frightening. 

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1 hour ago, whatmichaelsays said:

This is the core of the issue when it comes to any expansion effort really. 

I'll preface this by saying that cuts in Sport England funding hasn't helped here, but "we" don't really do a lot on this front. 

What tends to happen is a narrative of "we're expanding to...." or "we're investing in....." or "we've tried in ..... and it hasn't worked" is established when, in truth, the vast majority of these efforts have been delegated to the clubs in those regions and a small number of (very passionate and committed) owners like David Hughes - who have all of the existing day-to-day challenges of the heartland clubs, with this added burden of "growing the game" with very little support. 

It's why phrases like "the Catalans haven't done anything to improve the French team" are as unfair on the Catalans as it is to blame Hull KR for the fact that England can't beat Australia. Catalans are there to exist as a successful club in their own right and follow the same rules as everyone else to do that - their obligation isn't to the FFRXIII. We even seem to put the responsibility of selling media rights in France on the Catalans now, which just sums up how nobody at Red Hall / Manchester really wants to grasp this issue. 

Likewise with Magic Weekend - just rocking up and bringing the circus to town isn't really "expansion", but we still have claims like "we went to Cardiff all those years and we still don't have a club there!". 

The real issue here is that everybody sees expansion (certainly in the geographic sense, but arguably in other senses too) as "not their problem". The clubs don't want to do it, SLE clearly can't or won't do it and the RFL doesn't have the funding to do it. We then have this finger pointing going on - fans blaming the RFL for poor TV deals when it's really the fault of SLE, the clubs blaming the RFL for poor marketing when it's really the fault of the clubs, people blaming the Broncos for poor international crowds in London when it's the really the fault of the RFL..... and so it goes on. 

If either Super League Europe or the RFL is serious about geographic expansion, it has to take on that responsibility. It can't rely on delegating this to whichever "outpost" clubs we happen to have. 

Really good points. I like the observation that we burden Catalan with developing French rugby when we don't ask the same of others. 

We have obviously moved on from the early idea that Fulham/Broncos could, on their own, carry the sport to new markets. The opportunity the Broncos have now is to create something that is for them, in the community and able to operate without the burden of growing the game nationally.

What that looks like over the next ten years (if they stick around that long) is still totally unclear. The signs so far are that they are just appealing to the 500 or so people that they have always been able to rely on. Do the Broncos have a plan for how they are going to reach their expected 5000 supporters in three years?

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Good article.

From a playing point of view, rugby league has been a success in London. The problem has been sustaining a professional club with enough supporters to make it viable without a sugar daddy bailing them out. It doesn't have to be on a par with football support - the 5,000 target seems about right for now.

As @Tides Of Historysuggests in his article, the key to that is being rooted in the community beyond merely playing there on matchday. AFC Wimbledon defines its community as the London boroughs of Merton, Wandsworth and Kingston - over 700,000 people to go after.

I also think he's right to say Broncos need to take full advantage of Plough Lane - which has all the facilities a rugby club could wish for, including an in-built pub and fanzone - to implement an event culture that attracts young people with cash on their hip who want to have a drink & watch live sport (particularly in summer).

A community strategy + attracting latent RL support in London (inc. RU fans) + event culture at the new stadium would give Broncos a decent crack at hitting that 5,000 target and becoming sustainable. Fingers crossed. 

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36 minutes ago, Jughead said:

It’s this sort of baseless theory I’m on about. The “we’s” and the conspiracy theories amongst Rugby League fans is frightening. 

The ‘we’ I agree is silly but it’s not a baseless theory, it’s evident. 

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1 minute ago, Eddie said:

The ‘we’ I agree is silly but it’s not a baseless theory, it’s evident. 

It’s completely baseless and incorrect. London Broncos played in Super League in 2019. In 2020, again in 2021 and in 2022 their reserve side were admitted into the reserve league and they have an academy that has been in its elite competition for the age category it falls in for a number of years. That does not suggest that The RFL, who aren’t controlled by club chairmen as you claimed, nor Super League for that matter, do not want London Broncos. 

 

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What do people think ‘cracking the London market’ means? What should we aspire too?


For me a minimum would be two professional teams with at least one in the SL with crowds equivalent to the top sides in their leagues. In addition a vibrant community game and a profile in the local media. 

What specifically is needed to achieve this (other than money)-

1. At least one team playing attractive competitive rugby in a decent stadium that is accessible and has a reasonable atmosphere.

2. Marketing.

3. A buzz about the sport in London.  

4. High profile advertising.

5. Community links. 

I think we’re a fair way away from any of that. 
 

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2 hours ago, ShropshireBull said:

...

Without infrastructure , all the rest is worthless. 

I think that this gets to the absolute heart of the matter. Neither the RFL nor the London Broncos has invested very much at all in building up RL 'assets' across the London & SE area. These assets don't even need to be physical - though that would be ideal. One obvious asset that is missing is a London Strategy that the RFL, Broncos, Skolars and community game could all provide input to. At the moment, they are all ships that pass in the night.

 

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8 minutes ago, EssexRL said:

What do people think ‘cracking the London market’ means? What should we aspire too?


For me a minimum would be two professional teams with at least one in the SL with crowds equivalent to the top sides in their leagues. In addition a vibrant community game and a profile in the local media. 

What specifically is needed to achieve this (other than money)-

1. At least one team playing attractive competitive rugby in a decent stadium that is accessible and has a reasonable atmosphere.

2. Marketing.

3. A buzz about the sport in London.  

4. High profile advertising.

5. Community links. 

I think we’re a fair way away from any of that. 
 

Right now? A return to full time professionalism for London Broncos, with strong crowds of 1800+ and London Skolars to be competitive in League One, with players who aren’t just an old boys club from their Head Coaches last spell as coach. 

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1 minute ago, Archie Gordon said:

I think that this gets to the absolute heart of the matter. Neither the RFL nor the London Broncos has invested very much at all in building up RL 'assets' across the London & SE area. These assets don't even need to be physical - though that would be ideal. One obvious asset that is missing is a London Strategy that the RFL, Broncos, Skolars and community game could all provide input to. At the moment, they are all ships that pass in the night.

 

You could say that about a lot of clubs within Rugby League. The fact so few “top clubs” have their own stadium, let alone any other assets, should be a concern for all, it’s certainly not a London thing and with hindsight, we could probably pinpoint various points in history where certain clubs could or should have invested in an asset. 

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1 minute ago, Jughead said:

You could say that about a lot of clubs within Rugby League. The fact so few “top clubs” have their own stadium, let alone any other assets, should be a concern for all, it’s certainly not a London thing and with hindsight, we could probably pinpoint various points in history where certain clubs could or should have invested in an asset. 

I agree. I'm just addressing the situation rugby league finds itself in in London because that's the topic at hand. I'm also treating London here as an area rather than just the Broncos.

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37 minutes ago, Archie Gordon said:

I think that this gets to the absolute heart of the matter. Neither the RFL nor the London Broncos has invested very much at all in building up RL 'assets' across the London & SE area. These assets don't even need to be physical - though that would be ideal. One obvious asset that is missing is a London Strategy that the RFL, Broncos, Skolars and community game could all provide input to. At the moment, they are all ships that pass in the night.

 

You think it wouldn’t be a major task bringing interested partners, including supporter groups, together in London, would you? 

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