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World Cup windfall has all eyes on Wembley

Success: The Rugby League World Cup has exceeded all crowd and financial expectations.

Success: The Rugby League World Cup has exceeded all crowd and financial expectations. Photo: Getty Images

A record Test crowd for Saturday's World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand at Old Trafford and the commercial success of the tournament may prompt NRL officials to seriously consider taking a premiership match or Origin fixture to England.

The success of the World Cup and the fact 74,468 fans attended a match not featuring the host nation demonstrated that the British public has a genuine interest in watching rugby league played at the highest level.

While England is home to 13 Super League clubs, there is no doubt the NRL is a superior competition that many view in a similar way as they do the NFL and NBA.

Certainly, leading football administrators, including Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, are believed to think that way after meeting NRL boss Dave Smith during his 10-day visit to the UK for the World Cup.

Smith and other members of the NRL management team also met with senior executives from Manchester United, Arsenal's head of marketing Angus Kinnear, Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie, as well as Minister for Sport, Helen Grant and London's Commissioner for Sport Kate Hoey.

It is understood the possibility of playing a premiership or State of Origin match in England has been discussed and such a move would represent an opportunity to promote the NRL brand to a wider audience.

The NFL played two matches at Wembley this year, with both the Jacksonville Jaguars-San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings-Pittsburgh Steelers games drawing crowds of more than 83,000.

A further three matches have been scheduled at Wembley next year and it has been widely reported in the United States that the NFL wants to eventually have a team based in London.

From a rugby league perspective, an Origin match at Wembley Stadium would also showcase the game at its best in a city where the London Broncos are on the verge of collapse after years of dwindling crowds and income.

With Super League struggling financially, rival club officials that this column spoke to during the World Cup are ready to write off the Broncos as a failed, 18-year experiment.

An informal meeting of club bosses on Tuesday is expected to discuss reducing the number of Super League teams from 14 to 12 next season.

However, many in Australia would question the damage to the game's credibility without a team based in London and it is understood Smith and NRL game development manager Andrew Hill met with Broncos chief executive Gus Mackay 10 days ago.

According to The Global Financial Centres Index released in March, London is the leading financial centre in the world and is therefore home to many of the world's biggest companies - generating sponsorship and commercial opportunities if the NRL was to take a match there.

The World Cup semi-final double-header at Wembley Stadium two weeks ago attracted a crowd of 67,545 between England and New Zealand, and Australia and Fiji.

World Cup matches were watched by 457,483 fans and saw sell-out crowds at a wide range of venues, including Huddersfield, Warrington, Rochdale, Halifax, Perpignan, Toulouse and Old Trafford.

Tournament organisers say the World Cup generated more than $5 million in profits, which will now be used to promote the game internationally.

Perhaps the NRL will also help by taking a match to England.

21 comments so far

  • Comparing NRL to NFL is ridiculous and shows what a self inflated attitude the NRL has of itself. Of course they would sell out Wembley for an origin, because it would be a one off and a bit of a circus that would get people going out of curiosity, the same as it did when they played a game in LA. The only reason the RL WC final had so many people at the game was because it was played in the heart of a RL area, aka, 12 towns based around a motorway in the north of England and because everyone thought England would make the final. As someone who lived in the UK for a number of years I can tell you RL is all but dead in the UK except in those northern towns, and rugby league would be better of trying to keep its game in NSW and QLD going before that to struggles under the pressure from the real football and AFL

    Commenter
    mike1978
    Date and time
    December 02, 2013, 8:16PM
    • Mike1978, I'd be interested to know when you lived in the UK? Because the state of league in London has changed in the last 5 years. Last year, more kids in London were playing League than the whole of Yorkshire. Unfortunately everyone looks at Broncos as the be all and end all of the game in London, which is ridiculous. The amateur and semi-pro game is thriving in London, it's only the Broncos (due to a combination of Owner / RFL mismanagement) that are struggling. An Origin game would sell out in the UK, nomatter where you played it, because it's the best the game has to offer, and I've known people to be hooked on the game because of just one Origin match. Once these people are hooked, (and as long as the Broncos/Harlequins RL/London Crusaders/Fulham RL are still around in some form or the other, then the professional game in London will boom!

      Commenter
      acer101
      Location
      London
      Date and time
      December 02, 2013, 11:40PM
    • Mike if you'd watched the World Cup you would see that league in England is not "all but dead" but is in fact well supported and on the verge of achieving big things outside the North; especially when managed properly. This sounds like a great idea and it is high time the RFL and NRL started working more closely with each other. Being able to sell out Old Trafford is no small thing, nor is five million dollars. The commercial possibilities of a closer association between the two leagues and the development of second tier nations is enormous.

      Commenter
      Tiger33
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 7:30AM
    • The paranoia is strong with this one.

      League can grow on the back of the NRL. The key strength is the similarity to NFL and the ease with which US athletes could pick the game up. The US has a huge amount of players who dont make the Pro's. NRL scouts could pick them up for development and bring them to Oz. Key to this si that NRL is now a game for big athletes and the NFL is built on that.

      League is growing. They have the money to tie up the Pacific Island nations and push from there. Of course, it will never be huge inetrnationally like Soccer, but there are a lot of good things on the horizon.

      Commenter
      Razzle Time
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 8:30AM
    • @mike1978, your right about self inflated egos. I mean RL is not even the number one sport in australia, let alone amazingly comparing it to NFL is embarrassing. Talk about try hard wanna be's. Then again they did have that record crowd in ireland of wait for it........5014 people and half of those irish "fans" were probably that drunk that they thought they were going to a union game anyway.

      Commenter
      the truth
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 8:36AM
    • "RL is all but dead in the UK"?
      RL is now played at amateur level in almost every county of England, and most of that expansion has happened over the last 10 years. The national schools knock out comp has over 1600 teams from all around the UK.
      Hardly signs of a dying sport.

      Commenter
      AP
      Location
      Balmain
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 9:51AM
    • AP, so what if its played in every county at amateur level. So is basketball, ten pin bowling, tiddly winks, conkers and prob every other sport in the world for that matter. Also, 1600 school teams is small, the football schools comp in the UK has in the region of 6000 teams I believe. Not really telling stats are they....

      Commenter
      mike1978
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 6:38PM
  • Great idea!!

    And make sure it involves the mighty Roosters so I can pop over and watch then play.

    Commenter
    Joe the expat
    Location
    The Hague
    Date and time
    December 02, 2013, 8:43PM
    • I live in Hong Kong. The Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) received ZERO coverage here. The matches were not shown on either free-to-air or Setanta Pay TV. We receive international rugby union and some replayed NRL matches during the season but that's about it.

      While the crowd at Manchester was laudable, the Wallabies have also just played to sell out or near sell out crowds at Twickenham, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin while the RLWC was on. I don't think the RLWC is as big a deal as Australian "big-fish" / "small-pond" NRL journalists think.

      Commenter
      GWS
      Location
      Hong Kong
      Date and time
      December 02, 2013, 10:09PM
      • Hi GWS,
        RLWC was on TV in Singapore (Supersports). Suprised it wasn't on HK.
        The England - NZ semi created plenty of interest.

        Commenter
        James
        Location
        Singapore
        Date and time
        December 03, 2013, 1:51PM

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