The days of sell-out crowds at Kingston Park seem a long time ago now, but Newcastle Falcons are intent on drawing back the fans for their Aviva Premiership run-in.
Sparse gates for recent European matches can be partly explained by a run of four consecutive home games in the immediate aftermath of Christmas, Thursday night scheduling for TV and temperatures hovering only marginally above the zero mark.
Yet, with top-flight safety yet to be assured and the club desperate to gain a foot-hold following promotion, Mick Hogan’s return signals the seriousness with which owner Semore Kurdi is tackling the problem.
A stadium with a capacity just over 10,000 has been less than three-quarters full for the entire campaign, and only a shade over a quarter full for the past fortnight with Brive and Bucharest attracting crowds of just 2,650 and 2,611 respectively.
Having left the Falcons in 2008 for chief executive spells at Premiership rivals Sale Sharks and iconic rugby league outfit Wigan Warriors, Hogan is combining his new consultancy role at the Falcons with a three-day-a-week commitment to England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup cause.
Making no bones about the challenge, he said: “Attendance is the number one priority for any professional sports club because it drives so many of your other revenue streams.
“It is no accident when you get a big crowd your shop sales and beer sales go up and the more tickets sold usually means a better match-day experience.
“When supporters read the newspaper the day after a game there are two very clear indicators of how the club is doing.
The first is the score at the top of the article and the second is the crowd figure which goes underneath. That is what people judge you by.”
Tallying the cold, hard numbers game with the inherent uncertainty of professional sport is a delicate business and one Hogan is well accustomed to.
He added: The off-field team works hand in hand with the rugby side, and everything we do is based around giving the rugby management as much resource as possible for players, coaches, training and medical facilities,. Yes, positive results on the field make the job of growing attendance a bit easier, but there is so much we can do to give people a reason to come to Kingston Park.
“Then, once they are here, we need to make sure we give them a great day out so they will come back.”
The Lancastrian is realistic enough to know simple demographics mean Newcastle are not going to mirror Wigan, explaining: “There are differences between the Falcons and Wigan rugby league and at Wigan our biggest challenge was not attendance.
“We would average 15 or 16,000 over the season and have two games sold out at 25,000 capacity.
“Up to 4,000 supporters travel to away games and never less than 2,000 to any away game. What Wigan have, though, is multi-generational support in large numbers.
“People go to Wigan because their dads went and their grandads went, but where they would face challenges would be in corporate support and sponsorship.
“In that sense they would be some way behind a Sale Sharks or a Newcastle Falcons.
“Sponsorship and corporate hospitality levels at both would be some way ahead of those at Wigan, despite both clubs having smaller average attendances.”
Using the impending league visits of East Midlands giants Northampton and Leicester to reinvigorate interest in the Falcons, Hogan added: “Our entire focus now is on delivering the two biggest home attendances of the season so far,and offering a first class experience for them.
“Schools, rugby clubs and businesses will have the opportunity to get fantastic rewards and unique benefits as they show their support.
“What we will be establishing for the off-field team is the concept of ‘brilliant basics’.
We do not have the staff numbers or time to do dozens of new initiatives. What we do have, though, are skilled, committed staff who will be concentrating on getting the basics right.”