3 October 2019

Thursday Nights - by Mark

I've written about Thursday night games before - you can read that from 2016 here - but they're still around and still a hot-button topic for lots of fans.

Regular followers of SLP will know that I'm a fan of Thursday night games, personally. In summary of my atypical view, I like having the game to watch on TV that night and if my team play if frees up the whole weekend to do things with my non-sports-fan wife. I also don't think it's that hard to get to most of the games if you really want to and the attendances, whilst lower than Friday games, aren't "killing the sport".

This is not to say I don't understand that they don't work best for all fans. People who take their young children to the game, or have a long working commute, or live well outside the game's heartlands all have genuine struggle attending their side's Thursday games.

Indeed, when we polled rugby league fans this year, over 5% had the one change they would make to the sport related to Thursday night games, either getting rid or restricting the travel distances - read the results of our fan survey here.

In the follow-up polls that we're still running, two-thirds of voters so far would approve of restricting the distance sides have to travel to 50 miles (from away team's ground to home team's ground). No voter has Thursday as their best day to attend games. (no-one has a best day that isn't Friday, Saturday or Sunday.) Over a third of voters have it as their worst day to attend games - although, lets be honest people, it isn't actually worse for these voters than Tuesdays or Wednesdays, other than you actually get games on Thursdays. Add your weight to these numbers by voting here.

Anyway, that wasn't really what this post is about. This post is more about giving some facts on who has played most on Thursday nights, since they became a regular part of our Super League scheduling in Round 27 of the 2013 season.

The facts
The table below shows who has played the most Thursday nights games, each sides average Thursday home attendance and average overall home attendances, since Round 27 2013 to time of writing (during 2019 playoffs).
During the six-year run of regular Thursday night action, Castleford Tigers have had the most weeknight matches to contend with, 41 in total. This was brought on by a frankly ridiculous 2019 season of 11 Thursday games, 8 of which were away, including the final three games of their season. One of them was Maundy Thursday, so not quite the same with a bank holiday Friday the day after, but still!

Depending on the season and the structure, it's varied between 28 and 30 Thursday games per season from 2014 to 2019. Obviously, some of these were playoff games. Back in the 14-team days of 2014, sides should have averaged 4 games each on a Thursday. In 2019, it would have been 4.67 each if the 12-sides played the same amount of times. If games were spread out evenly, you would expect the 10 Super League ever-presents over the last six years to have each played roughly 30 Thursday games. You can see that hasn't fully happened. To redress the balance, Salford and Wakefield fans should be sent out on the road for a few more midweek trips over the next two years!

Castleford and Wigan have played roughly 2 of every 9 games on a Thursday night over the last six years. Castleford and St Helens fans have had to do the most travelling, whilst Wigan fans have had their home games most impacted. 

Castleford's 11 in 2019 is the most in one season for any side. Four times before, sides had 8 in a season. Although, only once has a team had more than 4 of their home games in a season on a Thursday night - Huddersfield had 5 in 2018. Not all of these were moved for TV..

10 of the 176 Thursday games weren't televised. These were either Maundy Thursday games or fixtures moved due to stadium access issues. Huddersfield have three of the non-televised games, with London having two and a number of others having one each. 

The thoughts
Outside of Wigan games, Thursday nights don't seem to be hitting crowd figures as hard as some make out. Although, there's clearly a perception that needs addressing if we're still to be used by our broadcasters to fill that otherwise vacant Thursday night team sport spot. 

The first thing needs to be a more even distribution of games. Catalans, understandably, don't host any Thursday night games - if fans find it hard to travel the 123 miles from Hull KR to St Helens (the longest road trip Super League will see in 2020), then getting on a flight makes it even harder. Plus, their home broadcast deal is, and should be, different. If Toronto come up, same applies there. But the rest need to be handed out more evenly. For example, no side needs to play more than three home games or more than three away games on Thursdays - and we make the overseas sides play at least three away to help shape that balance. 

The average UK travel distance in 2020 using the reasonable proxy of ground-to-ground travel will be about 56 miles, or 70 minutes in good conditions. Now, we know that 5:30pm to 7:30pm isn't always good conditions to travel across the north. 

So, as well as a more even spread of games for each side, no side's supporters should be expected to negotiate the travel conditions of both Manchester and Leeds areas on the same trip. That, for me, means no-one east of Leeds or west of Salford travel past Huddersfield on a Thursday night. I'd maybe let Leeds play Salford, as that trip is under 50 miles, so even with traffic at both ends it's not unreasonable to get between the two after work for a 7:45pm kick-off.

We know from the Super League leadership that Thursday night games are here to stay at least for the medium term. Sky Sports, our broadcast partner and main source of finance, like the slot. I've always said us fans should make the most of that TV exposure. Hopefully with these two tweaks we'll see a way to make more people like Thursday night games as much as I do!

Thanks as always for reading. Please share and comment with your own, constructive, thoughts. 


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