The trickle-down effect of rugby union attendance struggles

On and off the pitch the start of the English rugby season has been one of the most enthralling in recent memory.

Alongside the storm of financial troubles in the Premiership, which have seen Worcester Warriors suspended by the RFU and Wasps looking to appoint administrators, the opening attendance figures have provided another reason for concern.

Many are accrediting the crumbling attendance to the recent cost of living crisis and a hangover of the Covid-19 pandemic which disrupted the last two rugby seasons.

The struggle to attract fans to stadiums across the country in the Premiership has been well documented.

The opening round saw just 54% of seats filled, the lowest percentage since 2016/17 excluding the Covid-affected season of 2020/21.

The following three rounds haven’t provided much optimism either with 56%, 76% and 63% of total seats being filled respectively.

This trend is not only concerning for rugby’s top division but is also trickling down to the Championship.

Across the first four rounds of the 2022/23 season, the second division of English rugby has seen an average attendance of 1,007.

This figure is 15% lower than the opening four rounds of last year’s campaign, which had an average crowd of 1,234.

On top of that, nine of the opening 24 games in the 2022/23 Championship season have seen crowds of under 700.

In comparison, the first four rounds of last year’s season saw just two games under the same circumstances.

This is especially worrying given the increasing importance of the Championship in English rugby as players are being released by Premiership clubs as a result of the salary cap squeeze.

Additionally, the movement of players between Premiership and Championship clubs is occurring at an ever-greater rate, providing more opportunities for hidden gems to be unearthed.

In London, the trickled-down effects of dwindling attendance can be seen even in English rugby’s most popular city and the home of Twickenham.

Richmond, London Scottish and Ealing Trailfinders, the three London-based clubs that reside in the Championship, have recently suffered from poor attendance figures.

During the opening four rounds of the 2021/22 season, the home fixtures between Richmond, London Scottish and Ealing averaged an attendance of 883.

So far this season, that number is 609.

Ealing’s Trailfinders Sports Ground which has a maximum capacity of 5,000, has experienced an average attendance of 744 across its opening two games.

This means the club is filling out less than 15% of their stadium at the beginning of the season.

Rivals London Scottish and Richmond are no different with each club only filling out 11% and 13% of their maximum stadium capacity respectively across their first two home games of the season.

A drop of almost one-third in attendance and all three clubs filling out less than 15% of their stadiums provides a snapshot of the dire problem of attendance facing London’s Championship clubs, and the entire second division of English rugby.

Featured image credit: John Walton via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0

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