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Challenge Cup Semi Final attendance falls short of 10,000

Warrington Wolves players celebrate their Challenge Cup semi-final victory

The Challenge Cup final will be contested between Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves. Both sides won their semi-final contests comprehensively.

Wigan comfortably beat an ill-disciplined Hull KR on Saturday. the Warriors won 38-6 in front of a crowd of 11,193 in Doncaster.

The second semi-final was played at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium. Warrington thrashed the Huddersfield Giants, with Sam Burgess’ men running in eight tries. The Wolves booked their place in the Wembley showcase thanks to a 46-10 win.

However, much of the conversation after the game has centred around the relatively low attendances at the two games. Just 9,253 people made the journey to St Helens to watch Warrington’s win.

Despite strong television viewing figures, this has led to the prestige of the Challenge Cup being questioned. With just over 20,000 people attending the two games, some fans are beginning to ask if the Cup has lost its magic.

Has the Challenge Cup lost its magic?

Credit: Imago Images

Challenge Cup semi-finals have struggled to attract large crowds for several years. Last year’s semi-final between Wigan and Hull KR at Headingley drew a crowd of 10,296. The other semi between Leigh Leopards and St Helens at the Halliwell Jones Stadium was watched by 12,113 people.

The highest attendance in a semi-final at Doncaster in recent years came in 2017, as 14,526 people watched Hull FC beat Leeds. Therefore, total semi-final attendance in 2024 is down by around 2,000 fans since last year.

All eyes will now be on the attendance at the final at Wembley. Although the 2023 final attendance was up on the previous year, the crowd of 58,213 is significantly down from the 2010 peak of 85,217.

The figures are part of a general trend of falling attendances in the cup. The RFL is struggling to find a format and schedule for the competition having moved the final from the August Bank Holiday weekend.

What is to blame for falling cup attendance figures?

Leigh Leopards

Credit: Imago Images

There are a number of different reasons why cup attendances are on the decline. Since the disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, the cup has been increasingly moved to the periphery of the calendar.

The final was moved to July for the 2020 season, before being switched to May in 2022 and August in 2023. This year the final will be played on the first weekend of June.

Where previously the date was a permanent part of the calendar, it is now a movable feast, which makes planning more difficult for fans.

The motivation behind moving the final from August was to avoid a clash with the start of the football season. However, by scheduling the semi-finals for the end of May, it has created a different clash.

This year, the fixtures landed on the same weekend as the final weekend of the Premier League season. This is arguably a worse time, given the season is reaching its climax.

The use of neutral venues is also being questioned. Doncaster is not the most accessible ground for fans. Wigan fans faced a journey of around two hours to watch their side, with few viable public transport options.

In truth, there is no quick fix for the question of low attendance in the cup. The competition needs a fixed spot in the calendar, with a consistent format and the support of a coherent marketing plan.

Without that, the cup will continue to struggle to pull in big crowds.

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