In 2012 Rugby League had its own extraordinary sporting stories, in what was undoubtedly an outstanding year for sport in this country. From a memorable inaugural Magic Weekend at The Etihad Stadium in May, when the sun shone on a wonderful festival of Rugby League in front of over 60,000 fans, to the pupils of Howard of Effingham School, from Leatherhead in Surrey, being crowned as the Champion Schools winners, on the hallowed turf at Wembley, ahead of the Challenge Cup Final in August.
The season’s finale witnessed Leeds Rhinos, having embarked on a terrific run throughout the play-offs, titled as the 2012 Super League champions at the Grand Final at Old Trafford in October. It was also a year in which the final preparations were made to restructure the Championships for 2013 and welcome new clubs from Gloucester, Hemel Hempstead and Oxford.
It was a very challenging year in many ways but it was also one of significant achievement, most notably, with the implementation of a major structural change to the majority of the Community Game. Having played in the worst months of winter, the Community Game moved over to a new playing calendar, running from March to November, aligning the majority of the sport from Super League to Tier 4. The implementation of this significant historical change is a great tribute to the hard work of the thousands of volunteers working in all areas of the Community Game.
Across the professional game we saw some fantastic matches during the regular season and cup competitions. Both spectators at the matches and viewers at home were caught up in the excitement, reflected in record numbers, both at games and on television. The regular Super League season saw a 6.7 per cent increase in attendances - the highest aggregate attendance since Super League began in 1996. Similarly, our Super League broadcast partner SKY Sports have seen record viewing figures during 2012.
Progress was seen off the field with two new grounds opening in 2012, at St Helens and Salford, offering excellent facilities to spectators and brand new pitches for players to showcase their extraordinary talents. While everyone is acutely aware of the current economic climate, it is nonetheless encouraging that more ground improvements are being planned.
There were significant challenges faced by the governing body in 2012 including the threat of one or two clubs facing serious financial difficulties and, as you would expect, the RFL makes every effort to support the clubs who find themselves in these situation. Furthermore, there was a sizeable reduction in the funding provided to the RFL for our development work through the new Whole Sport funding settlement from Government.
The Watkins Review of Rugby League Governance was undertaken in 2012 and I would like to thank Maurice Watkins for undertaking the review and for his work as Interim Chair of The RFL in 2012. The Watkins Review reported that Rugby League governance remained market leading but it also made a number of recommendations where additional enhancements could assist the game to make the most of its opportunities for further success.
In the autumn of 2012 we launched our vibrant new marketing campaign, The Rugby League of the Extraordinary, which showcased the extraordinary talent of our Super League players, skills, speed, power and energy to new audiences. The campaign included a dedicated Rugby League of the Extraordinary website and a poster campaign in the lead up to the Grand Final in Manchester.
Throughout 2012, preparations continued apace for the Rugby League World Cup 2013. The detailed planning and preparations that the World Cup team have undertaken from their dedicated base at MediaCityUK in Salford, have laid the foundations for staging the best ever World Cup tournament. Their work has included establishing strong local partnerships on the ground in all the host venues, which will be a key part of delivering a successful world class event this autumn.
The World Cup Trophy began a nationwide tour in the autumn of 2012, including an early stop with the Prime Minister at Downing Street, and on October 26 2012 tickets went on general sale to mark a year to go. This is the earliest they have ever been available to fans and sales have been very encouraging, with strong buying patterns emerging from people who have never previously bought tickets for Rugby League events.
The World Cup is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to new audiences for the sport who want to be involved in the next major international sporting event after the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. We have our own volunteer programme and we received a great response to this when it was launched in 2012, both from people already involved in Rugby League and many people new to the sport, who all want to be part of the event. Altogether around 1,000 Rugby League World Cup volunteers will make a crucial contribution to the success of the Tournament in October and November 2013.
This is an exciting time to be involved in Rugby League and I want to conclude by thanking everyone involved in the game at all levels for their continued hard work to advance our great sport.
Chief Executive Officer