Super League – Attendance vs Population

Straight up facts based piece here, which has just come out of curiosity really, but may help inform some of my future writing.

I was wondering which Super League clubs do relatively well in attendances in terms of the population of their immediate drawing market.

The drawing market is defined here by the English district the stadium is placed within as per the Office for National Statistics population statistics. The clear drawback to this analysis is the Catalan Dragons – I’ve included them in the analysis but I can’t say how well their population statistics relate to the English ones, some of which include wider areas than just the town or city the club is based in. Another note before we get going with numbers is that in terms of districts, London is broken down into its smaller parts.

A note on the data, attendance figures are for the 2009-2012 seasons inclusive, other than for Widnes, who have only the 2012 figure to use for that period. Crude figures are taken from the individual season data as given by the excellent resource that is the Rugby League Project. I haven’t scoured through them or independently verified them as they seem robust enough at a glance to give a strong indication of the true picture.

Finally, Wakefield and Castleford are both part of the Wakefield district, and Hull FC and Hull KR are both part of the Kingston upon Hull district. Now, it would be too simplistic to chop these districts in half – both teams in these areas don’t show the same level of support. To get around this I took the combined attendance then matched the proportion each team was responsible for to the proportion of the total district population – i.e. Hull FC have roughly 60% of the combined average attendance for the Hull teams so I allocated them 60% of the district population.

Below are two tables – one for population, one for attendance. These are followed by a graph illustrating the respective rankings within Super League.






The teams above the line show better attendance than their population would suggest, and below the line vice versa. Warrington and Widnes are where they might be expected, sitting as they do on the dividing line. The Hull teams look in good shape, whilst London, Salford and Huddersfield aren’t faring so well. London and Salford deserve particular criticism as they have much larger potential drawing areas than those given in the tables above, being as they are the only Super League clubs in London and Manchester respectively. (I know Salford isn’t actually Manchester, but you understand my point I’m sure.)

Now I know this analysis isn’t perfect. It doesn’t factor attendance as a percentage of capacity, although there are so few capacity crowds attending Super League games that this doesn’t influence matters too much – rarely would a crowd have been bigger if the stadiums were bigger. It doesn’t account for fans that don’t live in the district, of which there will be many (I would fall into this category myself). It assumes everyone in the district is a potential fan of the local team, when there will be some who may already support a rival team or may have no interest in following a sports team at all. It doesn’t account for the percentage of a team’s attendance is made up by away supporters, although you’d expect the effect of away numbers to even out some what with teams having a stable core of away support going to all away games. It doesn’t account for support that can’t make it to games for whatever reason. Also, as the charts are based on rankings, rather than proportions, it doesn’t give the real gap between attendance and potential audience, but then it doesn’t account for substitute goods (other things people could do other than go watch rugby) either.

Like I say, it isn’t perfect, but it is an indication of who gets the best out of their potential market. Some teams are doing better than others, and I would like all teams in real attendance terms to be doing better than they are. This sport deserves more attention and bigger audiences.


Source: Super League – Attendance vs. Population

Big sports fan (Wigan Warriors, Manchester United, Pittsburgh Steelers, Lancashire County Cricket Club, St. Johnstone). Walking enthusiast.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. slickmick says:

    A bit of sports science, eh? Interesting.

    Biggest issue for me is the apparent disparity between Wigan and Salford City, how many of those fans at the DW are making their way there instead of to see the Reds? Quite a few I’d imagine.

    No surprise to see the Hull teams, Catalans and St.Helens up there…could hardly move for Saints fans at the Etihad last magic weekend!

    Bradford is a surprising one, as is Leeds. Perhaps the draw of the round-ball game is too appealing in that part of Yorkshire?

    Great work Mark, fascinating.

  2. markill says:

    I don’t think too much should be read into Leeds – they are only one rank off where they should be and as they have the biggest population and second best attendance. Bradford have shown a negative trend – go back to when they were winning titles and they were the best or second best attended every year.

    This isn’t really science though, its just numbers – I’m working on some science!

  3. poeticartist says:

    Why did you include Widnes as Halton? as Halton is made up of Widnes and Runcorn (two separate towns) I don’t see why you would include a completely separate town, Runcorn being a footballing town (Linnets) and there are only circa. 52,000 ppl in Widnes so the majority of this inflated population live OUTSIDE of the town! The stats on postcodes within the supporters also confirms that a vast majority live within the Widnes town limits, with a spattering of ex-pats from outside.
    As half of Liverpool make up the majority of the population in Runcorn its always going to be a football town!

    Try each town with its OWN populations and no combining to make the top clubs look good….

    • markill says:

      Thanks for reading. All teams were judged based on the district in which they are put in for the purposes of the ONS data I used (i.e.where the stadium is). This was the most reliable data available so offered as good a point of comparison as possible I felt. The analysis is far from perfect, but I assure you I wasn’t try to make the top teams look good.

      I assume you’re a Widnes fan, but I don’t really understand why you’ve taken offence – Widnes are ranked where they should be. The ‘top clubs’ are also ranked where they should be. To note that Runcorn is a footballing town I feel is a bit needless, as all the towns mentioned are also ‘footballing’ towns to some extent. Is Leeds not a footballing and cricketing city? Is Salford not a major football area? Wigan and Hull had premier league football teams during the period observed. I could go on, but I hope you see where I’m coming from. If I could go to every person in every district and ask them if they are a football person or a rugby league person, or neither, maybe I would get different results,but you’ll understand I can’t do that level of research.

      Wigan includes Leigh and Kirklees (Huddersfield) includes Halifax, so is that unfair on those teams too? Wakefield would include Featherstone as well as the two Super League teams. You have to take them as a broad representation. I would note that Widnes would look worse if I included data for the 2009-2011 Championship seasons, but as it would be an unfair comparison I left those lower numbers out.

      If Widnes population rather than Halton population was used then your approx 52000 people would rank Widnes 14th for drawing market. You would still rank 12th for attendance and it would not make a difference to how the top clubs look – it just makes Hull KR look a little worse and Salford and London still look as bad as they do now.

      Again, thanks for reading. Please come back and read more and contribute to the forums etc. I hope this has cleared up some of your questions and I hope you’ll appreciate that I wasn’t trying to make Widnes look bad or any other team look good. All were assessed equally and the data could not be perfect, as it never can for such a piece. I hope you still gained some insight from it.

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