Page XIII: How to fill Wembley for Challenge Cup finals day

THIS Saturday, Wigan v Warrington in the men’s Challenge Cup final, the women’s showpiece between St Helens and Leeds and the 1895 Cup game between Wakefield Trinity and Sheffield Eagles all have the potential to be mouthwatering and intriguing clashes.

While we may not be able to predict right now who will win which game, one thing that is almost guaranteed is that, despite the fare on offer, Wembley will be far from a sell-out.

Long gone are the days of 90,000+ fans in all clubs’ colours packed into the stands between the old Twin Towers, replaced instead largely by supporters of those clubs playing being the only ones to make the journey down to the capital.

Much has been said, and debated, over recent months about the decline in interest and popularity of the game’s most historic Cup competition. We even tried to find the reasons for this in the last issue of this magazine, but it quickly became clear there are no easy answers.

But one thing that is clear is that there seems to be very little engagement for those fans whose teams aren’t involved on the big day in the capital.

For as long as I can remember, even after getting this job within the rugby league media, I have always attended the Super League Grand Final as a fan. Every year, when we’re at Old Trafford, no matter who I’ve gone with we always play the same game where we try to point out as many different club shirts as possible. We virtually always see every Super League shirt, as well as several others from across the Championship, League One and the NRL.

Playing a similar game at Wembley simply wouldn’t have the same outcome. You might get one or two of the staunchest supporters from elsewhere making the trip down to the capital, but long gone are the days of Wembley being the must-see event of the rugby league calendar – that is now definitely leaning in favour of the Super League Grand Final.

That could just be down to the fact that that Old Trafford is a lot closer for most supporters and therefore a much cheaper option with no need for overnight stays, especially now whilst we’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis, but the Challenge Cup has always been something special, and in my opinion it should stay that way.

I will be travelling down to London on the Friday afternoon ahead of the finals, and I might be in the minority here, but for me, Challenge Cup Final day is still the one I look forward to most. Don’t get me wrong, from a work point of view it is one of the longest, busiest and most hectic days of the year, especially now there are three games to cover, but it is also one of the most enjoyable.

So how do we get more people to share my view of the day? That’s something for a marketing guru to work out – we have all the elements for a perfect product – three games of pride, passion and commitment – we now just need to find a way for that to be made irresistible for everyone.

Selling tickets at a discounted rate is certainly not the answer, that just cheapens the product and may instantly make the most casual of potential attendees think that it can’t be that good if it’s so cheap.

So how about this as a suggestion? IMG have always talked about ‘reimagining rugby league’ so could they help ‘reimagine the Challenge Cup’? We’ve already seen a number of clubs set about doing whatever they need to do to get their IMG Grading points up, so how about rewarding them for their involvement in getting the Cup back to the great competition it once was?

For example if all Super League clubs were incentivised from the start of each season to sell just 1,500 tickets, and those in the lower leagues 500 each, that’s potentially as many as 29,500 tickets sold before the six finalists are even known. The more of their allocation each club sells, the better it reflects on their IMG score. It might be a simple plan, but if it’s done right, it could be an effective one that could see the Challenge Cup Final restored to the great annual festival of rugby league it once was.

If, like me, you are heading down to Wembley I hope you enjoy the occasion, and if you see me or any of my RLW colleagues around the ground, feel free to stop us and say hello.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 497 (June 2024)

Click here to subscribe to the print edition of Rugby League World

Click here for the digital edition available from to read on your computer, tablet or smartphone