Rugby League World Cup on course to break attendance record, say organisers
Rugby League World Cup organisers remain confident this year’s event will be the best-attended in history and have defended the pricing strategy that has come under scrutiny during the opening week of the competition.
Almost 100,000 supporters have attended the first seven games of the tournament. While there have been some successes, including more than 43,000 at St James’ Park to watch England defeat Samoa, other group games – including the 5,400 that watched New Zealand face Lebanon – have attracted gates that have left organisers openly disappointed.
There were 458,483 tickets sold for the 2013 tournament, the best on record. However, the event’s chief executive, Jon Dutton, said on Thursday that figure will be beaten. “We’re close to already exceeding that,” he said. “There are certain milestones along the way, the 458,000, which would exceed 2013, the women’s [football] European Championships, which was around 571,000, is the next milestone, which we’re confident about.”
Supporters have queried why some fixtures, including New Zealand v Jamaica in Hull ton Saturday, have tickets on sale for as high as £75. But the competition is, by and large, affordable compared with club rugby league. Every group game has tickets available for as cheap as £25 for adults, with some as low as £15.
Despite the criticism, Dutton said there has not been a game in the opening week where the lowest-priced category of tickets has sold out. The message is clear from organisers: affordable tickets are there.
Success for England has had a knock-on effect on ticket sales. The win heightened England’s chances of reaching at least the semi-finals and if they get to the final four that game will be played at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
World Cup organisers say Saturday was the best day for ticket sales since the process began two years ago and the biggest-purchasing postcode was in London. More than 35,000 tickets have been sold for the fixture and the tournament’s revenue director, Mick Hogan, said: “If England qualify for the quarter-finals and come through that, we’ll see a huge surge in ticket sales again.”
Organisers have refused to cut prices to appease critics, a sensible call given tickets have been on sale for two years. A bundle to watch all three England group games cost £40; with tickets for the quarter-final and semi-final involving the hosts included, that figure was still only just over £100.
Slashing admission prices now would bring the World Cup – the premium event in the sport – to a point where it could be cheaper to attend than a bog-standard Super League game – not a position a tournament of this prestige wants to be in.