The Rugby Football League have hailed a successful season for the Betfred Championship and League 1 competitions, on and off the field, ahead of tonight’s annual awards ceremony in Manchester.
Attendances and viewing figures have increased significantly across both competitions, but especially in the Betfred Championship – and that positive trend has continued in the Play-Off series, as the battle hots up for promotion to the Betfred Super League in 2020.
Toronto Wolfpack and York City Knights each attracted attendances significantly above their regular season average for last weekend’s Play-Off fixtures against Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers respectively, and live coverage of both matches on Sky Sports took the cumulative viewing figures for Championship matches this season past 1.3m – with three of the top five viewing figures for the season coming in the last two weeks.
Toronto’s gate of 9,325 for their first versus second clash against Toulouse was the second best in the Wolfpack’s three-season history, as the Canadian club secured home advantage in the Betfred Championship Grand Final on Saturday October 5 – the Million Pound Game – which will also be shown live on Sky Sports.
York concluded another season of impressive progress following their promotion from Betfred League 1 in 2018 with an attendance of 3,222 at Bootham Crescent, helped by a four-figure following from Featherstone – who now travel to Toulouse in Sunday night’s final eliminator with the winners to provide the opposition to Toronto in the Million Pound Game at Lamport Stadium on Saturday week.
The aggregate Betfred Championship attendance for the season is now 474,735, including play-offs. The aggregate figure at the end of the regular season was 455,439 -a 79% increase on the 2018 total – and although that came from significantly more fixtures (189 compared to 138), the average match attendance was up by 31%, at 2,489 compared to 1,899. Twelve of the 14 clubs recorded increases in their average home attendance.
The combined attendance for Betfred Championship and League 1 has also increased by 9.9%, from 500,078 in 2018 to 549,495 this season.
Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s Chief Executive, said: “The Betfred Championship and League 1 Awards Night is an opportunity to celebrate what has been a season of significant progress, on and off the field.
“Bradford Bulls and Halifax showed the quality of Rugby League at Betfred Championship level by beating Super League opposition in the Coral Challenge Cup, and then combining to produce a memorable quarter final, with Halifax winning that game and going on to win more admirers with their performance against St Helens in the semi final.
“We’ve also seen Sheffield Eagles returning to Wembley to beat Widnes Vikings in the inaugural AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Final, and we shouldn’t forget the performances of League 1 clubs in both knockout competitions, notably Doncaster who reached the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and the quarter finals of the 1895 Cup.
“The significant increases in attendances, especially in the Betfred Championship, underline the loyal support our clubs continue to receive from the communities in which they are so important, and the growing appeal of the competition.
“It’s been especially pleasing this season to have so many more matches at this level televised by Sky Sports, and the viewing figures have been encouraging, especially for Sunday night fixtures whether at the Summer Bash in the spring, or for the Play-Offs at Leigh and Toronto in the last couple of weeks.
“We’ve also continued to invest significantly in broadcasting fixtures ourselves on the RFL’s Our League platform, with our membership figures now approaching 120,000, in addition to exploring the opportunities offered by new platforms such as Twitch to reach a new, younger audience.
“We have two more exciting rounds of the Play-Offs in each competition over the next two weekends, with Newcastle Thunder, Doncaster and Oldham battling to join Whitehaven in earning promotion from League 1 to the Championship, and Toulouse facing Featherstone this Sunday night for the right to go to Toronto in the Betfred Championship Grand Final. We’ll have plenty to celebrate at the Awards Night, but also much more to anticipate.”