Talking Rugby League: World Cup publicity must be ramped up as ticket sales stall

What is a realistic target for World Cup ticket sales?

The World Cup organisers, led by their chief executive Jon Dutton, have always said that the target is 750,000 ticket sales or more.

So how far are they from reaching that target?

The World Cup team doesn’t reveal precise details of how many tickets have been sold, but the most recent information suggests that something in excess of 250,000 have by now been sold.

If true, that figure is well short of the target and we will need to see an awful lot of sales over the next couple of months if we are to get to the point at which all or most of the stadiums look full for the World Cup matches.

The government has given £25 million to help finance the competition, but apparently it is beginning to ask some awkward questions about the progress being made in ticket sales.

476,000 tickets were sold in total for the 2013 tournament, which was run with a much smaller staff and didn’t have the benefit of such generous government support.

The recent Women’s Euros competition apparently sold about 570,000 tickets, with the World Cup team very keen to get beyond that figure.

So why, if my understanding is correct, do World Cup ticket sales seem to have stalled?

I think it’s partly because there isn’t much news coming out of the England camp.

The England men’s coach Shaun Wane doesn’t seem to have the sort of profile that makes newspaper and website editors demand to speak to him. In recent weeks, the most publicity he has generated seems to have been when he made a trip to the United States to speak to an NFL club.

That’s fine, but it doesn’t do much to sell tickets in this country.

The England rugby union coach Eddie Jones is constantly in the media and he seems to make himself available to speak to most media outlets. Not just that, but he can normally be relied upon to say something newsworthy, often getting up the nose of future opponents.

So how can we persuade Shaun to do that?

The truth is that if you’re trying to sell a World Cup as a major tournament that everyone in the country should be desperate to come and watch, you won’t do that if the leading figures refuse to engage with the media.

The World Cup team is good at promoting community-based projects, as it has in the northeast recently, for example.

That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t generate the sort of publicity that we need to sell thousands more tickets.

It’s ironic that the most publicity the World Cup generated in the last couple of months was when government minister Nadine Dorries confused the two codes of rugby at a World Cup press conference.

Should we ask her to do it again?

Rugby League can’t afford the World Cup not to be a success.

Short-sighted fixture planning

This Thursday evening, Toulouse will at last host their French rivals, the Catalans Dragons at the Stade Ernest Wallon in the pink city.

I’m tempted to ask why it has taken so long for the two French teams to meet each other at the home of the newly promoted club.

Surely, this fixture should have been Toulouse’s first home match of the season, to generate massive publicity for the game in France at the start of the season while the fans would be full of optimism for the season ahead.

Instead of that, we’ll now see a game hosted by a team that is going to be relegated and the crowd will probably reflect that status.

What could have been a great event if held earlier in the season has now become a relatively unimportant game.

I’ve always thought that smart fixture planning is an essential part of the marketing of a professional sport.

I don’t know who compiled the Super League fixture list, but whoever it was, if fixture compilation was an A-level subject, I’m afraid they would have failed quite miserably.

A notable contrast

At the weekend there was an interesting report in the Sunday Telegraph about the money that has been loaned to Premiership rugby union clubs.

“The amount of taxpayers’ money poured into Premiership Rugby clubs to stop them going bust has more than doubled initial estimates to reach £124 million,” said the report.

That compares with a figure of around £15 million that came to Super League clubs from the same source.

The money loaned to Rugby League clubs has to be paid back over ten years, whereas the money loaned to rugby union clubs can be paid back in 20 years.

Even so, a lot of leading rugby union clubs are in severe financial straits. Worcester Warriors had been hit with a winding up petition by HM Revenue & Customs and Wasps are also being pursued over unpaid tax.

“The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport tailored packages to meet the financial circumstances of individual organisations, providing loans to give them the best possible chance of survival in the short term. Rugby union was comfortably the biggest beneficiary of this scheme among professional sports,” said the Telegraph article.

Did Rugby League receive so much less money because our finances are stronger or because the RFL was not good at negotiating a significantly greater sum?

I think we should be told.

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