'Best fans in the world' - Leeds Rhinos pay tribute after most members and ALL sponsors stay loyal during pandemic
All Leeds Rhinos’ sponsors and the vast majority of season ticket holders have stuck with the club throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
After 444 days, Rhinos will play in front of a crowd again for Hull’s visit to Emerald Headingley on Sunday.
The last time fans were admitted to the stadium was on March 5 last year when Rhinos crushed Toronto Wolfpack 66-12.
Rhinos have guaranteed all their members a place at one of their next two home games, with 4,000 fans attending on Sunday and a similar number receiving a ticket to the clash with St Helens on June 11.
Every season-ticket holder was offered a rebate on last year’s pass but almost all opted to leave their money with the club.
Rhinos’ commercial director Rob Oates admitted the size of their business means they have suffered a bigger financial hit during the pandemic than other clubs but predicted the loyalty of members and sponsors will ensure they also make a faster recovery.
Looking back over the past 14 months, Oates said: “The fans have been amazing, they are the best fans in the world and it’s at times like these you realise just how good they are.
“We put some options to them last summer and their support and understanding has been incredible.
“We can’t wait to see them back on Sunday.
“I think the team and the whole organisation need them.”
Oates believes the coronavirus crisis has brought fans and the club closer together.
“I think it has made people realise just what the club means to them, to fans, sponsors, players and staff,” he added.
“People have missed being able to come to the ground.
“We offered three options - a rebate, spread the money over three years or donate it [the cost of last year’s season ticket] to the club.
“Some people are struggling as well and need a refund, we understand that and a membership is a big financial commitment, but the vast majority have left their money in the club.”
In terms of commercial backers, Oates said the response has been “amazing”.
He revealed: “Every single sponsor - 100 per cent of them - has stood by the club.
“That is testimony to what they think about the club.
“It is humbling, I took some phone calls and I cried, it was so emotional, they have been so, so generous.
“We’re not just talking £200, it was £50,000-60,0000 in one phone call I took. That’s unbelievable.
“All our commercial customers have stuck with us and our associate club partners have been amazing.”
To make up for matches already played behind closed doors this year and fewer home games - because of a reduced fixture list - Rhinos have included World Cup ties played at Headingley as part of their 2021 membership and corporate package.
Oates said: “The uptake on that has been great.
“Season-ticket holders miss four games, but get all five World up games at Emerald Headingley, so they get to be part of what will be a great spectacle at the end of the year.”
Where Rhinos have lost out is on individual match-day income, from occasional and away fans or anyone who would have booked one-off hospitality.
“That number is big,” Oates admitted. But he stressed: “While it has been challenging, commercially we are in really, really good shape.
“Our fall is probably higher than most other rugby clubs but our pathway out of it is clearer. We are turning over probably three times as much as other clubs, so there has been a bigger financial impact on us, but the recovery will be quicker than most for the same reason.
“While our existing group of fans and commercial partners have been amazing, we also want new people.
“The game-day experience at Emerald Headingley is second to none.
“After lockdown, people are chomping at the bit to get out and about so, hopefully, we will attract new fans and commercial partners as well.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.