In many ways, Wigan Warriors have never appeared to be in a healthier state.
On the pitch, the club has reached its 11th Grand Final and have just won their fifth League Leaders’ Shield.
Their renowned Academy continues to produce talent at a near unrivalled rate and that has been complemented with key retentions and the recruitment of overseas stars, with Bevan French and Jackson Hastings both signing new deals and Jai Field being added to the squad.
The recent move to their new training complex at Robin Park is the envy of many sporting organisations across the country.
But scratch beneath the surface and there is an undeniable elephant in the room in the shape of the club’s attendances.
In the space of eight years, Wigan’s crowds have dropped from over 15,200 to just over 11,400, a 25% decrease.
It’s an alarming decline that Kris Radlinski is aware the club must arrest once fans are allowed back in stadiums.
That, in part, played a role in the club’s decision to replace its traditional coat of arms and replace it with a new crest that has, so far, polarised its fan base.
Radlinski has overseen the transition, which is part of a wider strategy to ensure the club thrives in the future.
“We can’t just sit back and carry on as we are doing year after year,” he said.
“People ask me the question ‘why is Bevan staying?’. Yeah, he’s getting paid more, but he comes to England to travel, to meet people, to get into Europe and explore the culture. All that has been taken away from him with Covid. So I’m sat there facing him wondering how I’m going to swing this in our favour.
“But you explain the vision, how the rebrand will take him into the next era as one of the faces of Super League for years to come, how it’s all part of the longer-term vision for the sport. You get his juices flowing.
“My fear was people didn’t understand why we had to move forward. If we don’t, we won’t exist. We have to want to do more than just survive.
“When I talk about it my passion comes through because I care about it. What’s the alternative? Do we just roll out another kit every year and be happy with mediocrity?”
Like many other clubs in Rugby League, and across sport, Radlinski is left juggling between trying to attract a new generation of supporters while appeasing the diehards who have supported the club for life.
“We’re faced with this reality where crowds are going down. Fans wanted star players, we’ve delivered, but we have to keep doing more. People keep asking if I’m okay because I know I’m getting butchered on social media, but I’m passionate about it. If I’m sat here and not fazed I’m doing the wrong job, aren’t I?
“I think once you explain the vision; there was one vociferous fan on social media so the club invited him in. We had a brilliant conversation, he had a great tone and I explained the challenges we’re facing and what we’re trying to do to take the club forward. I think if I had 30 minutes with a thousand Wiganers I’d win them over.”
As part of that vision, Radlinski hopes to drive an events culture on gameday once supporters are allowed back on the terraces.
“We’d started that with Robin Park and opening our fan village and it was really successful, we had around 700 people drinking in the facility and we’ve never had that before.
“We want that pre and post-game activity, throughout the experience we want to create those ‘Instagramable’ opportunities because that’s the way the world is going now. We’ve been talking about having a tribute to Central Park, getting some seats in for people to have a picture opportunity with.
“The rebrand isn’t an attempt to disrespect and forget the club’s history, it’s having the courage to do something different.”
On the field, Radlinski is confident about what the future holds.
“It’s part of our business model to develop our own, we’ve done it for years and years.
Scouts are still out on Sunday mornings finding them and they hand them to our young coaches and strength and conditioning guys, and they push them all the way through. We are proud of it really, the understanding of the calls and the culture is all instilled at a very early age.
“With Robin Park, our strategic plan was to create a world class facility and it’s unbelievable. It’s a recruitment tool as well. It does have the wow factor. Our gym partners have created an unbelievable facility. It’s everything I wanted it to be.
“We’re excited about what’s ahead for the club.”
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