Rugby League successful at attracting new fans, finds MBS study

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Rugby League is working hard to grow its fan base in the Manchester area according to a new study by Manchester Business School’s Dr Leah Donlan.

The research, led by Dr Leah Donlan, outlines the League’s strategy of hosting major events such as Magic Weekend and the Super League Grand Final in the city to expand its fan base.

Dr Donlan, who is a Lecturer in Marketing at Manchester Business School, said: “Highlighted in the study are the opportunities and the challenges of growing a sport in a city with little rugby league heritage whilst still serving the needs of the sport’s core fan base.”

The study examined the Rugby League Magic Weekend which takes place each May and found out that many of the features that make it a great event for fan engagement are being used at this weekend’s Grand Final.

Dr Donlan said: “These events cater for the needs of die-hard rugby fans and also casual spectators with a variety of on-pitch entertainment pre-match and at half time.

“This weekend is a not just about showcasing the best of British rugby league, it draws fans to the sport with additional attractions transforming it into an event with live music and family-friendly activities.”

Playing at this weekend’s Grand Final is the British rock band James, who will headline the pre-match and half-time entertainment.

“The Super League has understood that there is a monetary and time cost to fans in attending these showpiece events,” adds Dr Donlan “As they are over and above regular season matches covered by season tickets.”

Therefore, a range of ticketing promotions including Early Bird offers are used to attract not only existing fans, but also newcomers to the sport, particularly around Manchester. Dr Donlan says that the events are also well promoted using social media to build a sense of anticipation in the lead up to the events.

She said: “The Super League has understood that different fan groups have different motivations for attending the event, such as team affiliation and skill among die-hard fans and entertainment and pure escapism among casual spectators.

“These motivations are tapped into when the event is promoted. For example the use of imagery around ‘the rugby league of the extraordinary’ is used to emphasise the skill and physicality of the game which will appeal to existing fans.

“Also this would appeal to sports fans looking for a new sport to support or those who simply enjoy attending major sporting events. The non-sporting entertainment provided on the day is to create the sense of it being far more than just a rugby league match.”

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