England’s performance in the Four Nations will have left the RFL with a lot to ponder, but the governing body also has a lot to consider the regarding future use of the Olympic Stadium.
Rugby League returned to the new home of West Ham United, a year after they first played there in the second Test match against New Zealand.
35, 569 were there to see England get knocked out of the Four Nations, almost 9,000 less than the 44,393 spectators that attended the game at the same ground a year earlier.
A drop of almost 20% is a concerning decline in the space of a year, whichever way you look at.
Naturally, criticism followed on social media, but those quick to chastise the decision to return to London should consider a few things.
Around 50% of tickets sold for the match were from the London area, which shows that demand for the game in the South is still there. Whether you like expansion or not, it is a priority for the RFL, so don’t expect to see them turn their back on London fixtures anytime soon.
Additionally, there are legitimate reasons for the decrease in spectators. England’s defeat to New Zealand won’t have helped, the prospect of the same game taking place a week later in a more central venue for the majority of fans is another.
There’s also the argument that the novelty of seeing a game at the Olympic Stadium will have attracted more fans the year earlier, although it could be argued that the RFL should have considered this before returning.
Either way, organisers will not see the attendance as a failure, it is, as it stands, the highest attendance in the competition so far.
Ultimately, what needs to be taken into consideration is the fan experience.
There were complaints before the game had started that fans were facing long queues to collect and purchase tickets, which caused great frustration outside the ground. It’s almost inexplicable to condone such waits like that at modern stadia, and that will be a key topic in the inevitable debrief.
— James Silley ن (@JamesSilley) November 13, 2016
Within the ground, there are still concerns about the atmosphere that has been generated within the stadium. Most Rugby League grounds have compact facilities with narrow steps, which help contain the atmosphere generated. The same can’t be said for the Olympic Stadium, with its old running track creating a big gap between the pitch and supporters. The atmosphere, or lack of, has been evident on TV. Despite that, there have been positive reviews from many.
Whether the game’s association with the ground is over remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely that organisers will dump London from the schedule once plans are in place for another England international, which means a longer association could still be on the cards.