While much attention is being given to Bradford’s current plight, Wakefield’s progress since their own administration is remarkable.
The Wildcats, and what they have done since those dark days last February, are a reason to Love Rugby League at the moment.
Work done in terms of marketing and promoting their club, as well as embracing the local community, should very much act as a model for other clubs of a similar size to follow.
The hard work of owner Andrew Glover and CEO James Elston has seen their crowds increase by nearly 25% this season, and they are currently riding the crest of a wave on the field, following impressive victories over Leeds, Castleford and St Helens, which has seen them crash into the play-off race.
Too many clubs in rugby league are resting on their laurels and expecting fans to just turn up, but Wakefield have made themselves open to their fans, and Elston is a firm believer in making it as easy as possible to “be a fan”.
That has seen an increased social media presence, better local media coverage and also increased revenue streams within the club, most notably a greater range of merchandise and the Club 1873 lottery.
Elston told us earlier this year: “There’s not one reason for the increase in numbers. It’s a mix of things but we still need to do more.
“What we’ve worked on is making it very easy to be a fan. We want to make the club accessible. We want to get information out via the club website, Facebook, Twitter, local press, the radio; myself and Andrew have our own personal Twitter accounts, and there’s a real thought process behind that.
“We want to encourage interaction and transparency. There were criticisms of the club in the past that the fans ‘don’t know what’s going’ but now they are able to ask questions and get the information they want out of the club.”
In three of the Wildcats’ matches this season – Castleford, Huddersfield and Warrington – they have added more than 3000 on to the gate compared to last season, and the only blip in their improvement was the Salford game, which was 75 down on 2011 (although that was the first home game of last season).
Team 2011 2012 Difference % Difference Bradford 6502 6934 432 106.64 Castleford 6784 9786 3002 144.25 Catalan 4561 7254 2693 159.04 Huddersfield 5436 8794 3358 161.77 Hull 7965 8986 1021 112.82 Hull KR 7283 8612 1329 118.25 Leeds 8763 9547 784 108.95 London 5412 5876 464 108.57 Salford 6823 6748 -75 98.90 St Helens 5985 7876 1891 131.60 Warrington 5073 8483 3410 167.22 Wigan 8163 9107 944 111.56
Wakefield certainly aren’t taking their fans for granted, and their openness to fans and the way they have marketed the club this season shows that it is possible to attract new fans, making a mockery of the apparent “doom and gloom” views in some quarters.
Fans have seen investment in ground improvements, while progress continues to be made on a possible new stadium at Newmarket. With all due respect, Wakefield aren’t the most fashionable club and they Belle Vue is far from fashionable, but they have still managed to create a buzz and a positive vibe around the club which has some fans believing they may not be far away from some glory days.
One of those fans, Kevin Bateman, enthuses about the progress the club has made since the dark days of administration.
He said: “The progress Wakefield have made is pretty stunning, even Cas fans must admit that! Since taking over Andrew Glover has made the club so much more professional both on and off the pitch.
“Andrew and James pay attention to detail and this became apparent as soon as they took over the running of the club. Andrew was pretty disgusted at the state of the place, both asthetically and business wise. He got cracking on turning things around pretty much straight away. At a fans meeting I remember him telling us how he thought the place looked grubby and dirty and that the clubs databases were pretty much non existent. Within weeks Cats Bar (the bar at the back of the car park just past Superbowl) had had a refurbishment!
“I think one of the reasons for our increase in attendance is the transparency of the club now. Before it was pretty much cloak and dagger stuff but now the club keep fans updated with the goings on and future plans. Sticking to promises also helps after so many false dawns down at Belle Vue.
“As well as recent results the prospect of a move to Newmarket is looking ever more likely, the public enquiry giving us a favourable outcome really did lift everyones spirits. It’s still not set in stone but the noises I hear are all positive.
“I honestly believe that when we get to Newmarket this great club will really prosper and a return to the glory days of the 60’s may not be too far away!”
Glover and Elston are just at the beginning of their journey, but they will have been encouraged by the start made and the response they have received.
In terms of marketing a bottom half Super League club, Wakefield are leading the way. It’s now up to their rivals to follow suit, or risk being left behind.