Rugby league fans tell survey they feel 'cut off' from decision makers

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Super League fans
Of the surveyed fans, 93% believed they should be consulted by the RFL or Super League and aren't

Rugby league fans say they feel cut off from decisions at both their clubs and the game's two governing bodies - the RFL and Super League.

A nationwide surveyexternal-link of more than 1,000 fans shows that many are scathing at how ignored they are in major decisions, including rebranding, changes of identity and name and stadium relocations.

The survey, conducted in June and July of this year by Think Fan Engagement, which has conducted similar surveys across other sports, reveals that 87% of fans asked say they have not been asked about a significant change to the name, brand or badge design of the club they support.

And 93% believe fans should be consulted and are not by the RFL or Super League on major issues within the sport.

The organiser of the survey, Kevin Rye of Think Fan Engagement, told this week's BBC Radio 5 Live Rugby League podcast: "Just a casual conversation with a fan of a club in rugby league will tell you that fans feel disconnected, disengaged with."

And he believes that by not taking fans' views into account, clubs and the game as a whole is missing a trick.

"Who are the best advocates you can ever have? These people who actually pay to go and watch a sport. They will go out and be your best evangelists, your best advocates. They will talk you up," he said.

"Think about that in terms of your marketing, of selling. Those people will do it for free. Involve those people, have a good conversation with them, and that will help to shape what you want to do."

The findings of the survey show:

  • 72% don't agree that their club takes their views into account in the decisions it makes (e.g. ticketing, fixture rescheduling, changes to badge or rebranding)
  • 87% of those who support clubs who say they have had 'changes of name, badge or brand in the last five years', say they were not asked their views about such a change
  • 88.5% agree that as part of any change to the name, badge or brand of their rugby league club, supporters of that club should always be given the final say
  • 81.8% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on changes to the name, badge or branding of the club
  • 60% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on ticket prices or proposals for the relocation of supporters within the stadium
  • 73.6% think that fans should have the right to be formally consulted on stadium relocations
  • Fans overwhelmingly agree (93%) that all fans should have a right to be formally consulted by The RFL or Super League on major issues in the game that directly affect them. This might include, for example, a proposal for rugby league to change back to a winter sport.

Rye told the podcast that proper fan engagement could be achieved by setting up fan parliaments at each club, with elected members and installing an elected supporter on to the board of each club to put forward the views of those on the terraces and in the stands.

"As someone who is largely an outsider to the sport, what comes across most in all the research so far, is that it's a sport that isn't comfortable in its own skin. Many of those in charge across the game seem to be almost embarrassed at it, lacking in confidence somehow," he said.

"I don't get that from the fans who completed this survey, who clearly love and cherish their clubs and what is a wonderful sport that unites communities, and which has an extraordinary origin story.

"My message to everyone in the sport is what many of those fans surveyed have said: listen, work with them, engage with them, and start by appreciating the sport for what it is."

An RFL spokesperson said they engaged and consulted with fans regularly.

"We champion the insight internally and it contributes to strategic decision making," they added.

"Examples of this include an annual fans survey, conducted at the end of each season - the 2021 survey will be pushed out in November - which covers a broad range of topics, and consistently receives more than 1,000 responses.

"We also convene groups of fans digitally or in person at our offices and clubs to consult on key subjects - such as our league, or strategy - and we survey participants at the end of every playing season for feedback on competitions and their experiences of participating.

"In addition, we are part of a syndicated UK sport-wide tracking study to enable us to benchmark feelings towards rugby league amongst our fans and the UK general population against other sports.

"Finally, we have a customer services team who record and respond to all fan enquiries on a broad range of subjects - match officials, competitions structure ideas, marketing ideas etc."

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