Newcastle Falcons are on course for their biggest crowd of the season against Exeter Chiefs on Friday night, having already seen their Aviva Premiership home gates up 18.3% on the same games last season.
The average home attendance for their first three league outings has risen from 5,136 to 6,076, and managing director Mick Hogan is aiming to get somewhere near to filling their 10,200-capacity Kingston Park Stadium in an event billed as the ‘Big Night Oot’.
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A major marketing push has accompanied the visit of the Premiership finalists, Hogan saying on the club’s recent attendance growth: “First and foremost it is down to what happens on the field and the improvements the team have been making.
“Our three home games have seen two wins and one defeat by a single point against a traditional Premiership giant in Leicester Tigers. All three have been really exciting, well-contested matches, and our fans are responding. On top of that we have put in a lot of work off the field to improve people’s experience when they attend a match at Kingston Park Stadium, and the overwhelming feedback from supporters is that they enjoy it when they come here.
“We have invested a considerable amount in opening our new 1877 Bar in the East Stand, named after the year in which the club was founded. We think it is the best supporters’ bar in club rugby and, while many clubs will have corporate areas at a similarly high standard to ours, for the average fan who has just bought a standard ticket it is a better proposition than you find at most venues. They can come in before and after the game, the club’s history is displayed on the wall, they can drink our own club beer from a proper glass and now after a match we lay on free curry for all supporters. The rugby is obviously the focal point of any match day, but it is a full event when you come to a Falcons game.”
Having taken a long run-up to Friday’s visit of Exeter, Hogan said: “A massive amount of work has gone in for this game with regards to group sales, businesses, rugby clubs, schools, and our season ticket members have been great in inviting friends, neighbours or additional guests along.
“All the extra work we are doing is aimed at giving as many reasons as possible to come here. Ahead of the Falcons game we have Northumbria University v Hartpury College in a top-level national BUCS student league game at 4.45pm. That is included in the price of the match ticket, and after the final whistle there is live music in the bars along with our free curry. That has proved so popular we have had to double the provision for this game and serve it in both main stands, and it promises to be a huge night for us.”
The pull factor of the Big Night Oot stretches well beyond traditional rugby supporters, Hogan stating: “For people who aren’t necessarily rugby fans or who have not seen a live professional game, this is the night to be at. You can get served at the bar and take your pint into the stands, there is plenty going on around the action and it is an enjoyable experience. Our two-pint glasses are always popular because it effectively halves your queueing time, and with the temperatures we can get here in the winter there is no danger of your beer going warm!”
Newcastle’s attendance growth comes at a time when the club’s commercial value is improving, with a host of new partners on board for this season.
Hogan said: “Ultimately, partners want a return on their investment, but they also want to be associated with clubs which seem to be improving. Hopefully we are demonstrating that, and with our new CRM data system we are able to be much more efficient and strategic in terms of putting our partners in front of 60 or 70,000 supporters who are registered for our email newsletters. We offer match-day promotions in the stadium to our partners, use of the players, and the fact we are retaining our existing partners shows our innovative approach is working.”
Crediting the squad for the role they are playing in the Falcons’ drive to grow their fan base, he added: “The way in which we work with our local rugby clubs is central to everything we do, and the Falcons Community Foundation are paramount in that.
“We run a ‘Club Connections’ scheme which has really strengthened the bonds between us and the rugby-playing fraternity in our region, and we are really working collectively in building the club. It is the obvious first step to speak to people who already have an interest in the game, and we also want to help their own environment to flourish. We can do that through things like ‘coach the coaches’, through fundraising or off-field knowhow, and in return they come and support our games.
“Our players are absolutely central to that, and I cannot thank them enough. The morning after our Premiership win at Gloucester, when the players had got home after 1am from a six-hour bus trip, they were out the following morning visiting more than 20 local rugby clubs on our ‘player blitz’. Every single one of them turned up on time, coached the kids and represented the club brilliantly, and I don’t think that would happen at many other clubs.
“We have always had great support from our players, and long may that continue. They understand the challenges we face up here in terms of growing the sport. It is a tough ask, and we really are rugby missionaries. But the players are right behind us in visiting rugby clubs, schools, businesses and supporting our events. They bring enthusiasm and professionalism to it when they attend these things, and the effect it has on people is tremendous.”
Hopeful that their combination of on and off-field improvements can manifest itself in a big crowd for Friday’s clash with the Chiefs, Hogan said: “If we could sell out the Exeter game or even get close, it would be a huge statement.
“Exeter are a big club, the Aviva Premiership finalists, and they have some great players. If we get anywhere near 8,000 to 10,000 here it will be 99% local fans, and that is the big thing. With the best will in the world it has not been artificially bolstered by hundreds of fans making the 900-mile round trip from Devon. We know that is an incredibly long distance for supporters to cover, and also that the supporters here on Friday night will be predominantly cheering on their home team.
“They key for us is to deliver a good night on and off the field, and if we do that people will come back.”
Tickets for Friday’s ‘Big Night Oot’ are available by calling 0871 226 6060, from the stadium box office in person or via www.newcastlefalcons.co.uk .