2021 World Cup confident a year’s delay can deliver ‘stronger’ financial performance

Jon Dutton CEO, Rugby League World Cup

The organisers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC2021) remain confident will meet its commercial targets despite being forced to postpone the tournament for 12 months.

The competition, which was due to have men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments taking place at the same time this autumn, has been moved back to 2022 after Australia and New Zealand pulled out.

There is optimism that the 12-month extension can help further boost the commercial performance of the tournament.

“We will probably be in a stronger financial position in 2022,” said RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton.

“Clearly we had some exceptional costs to meet in terms of charter flights and privately-managed quarantine that we anticipate won’t be there in 2022. That’s obviously balanced by things like rebates and ticket refunds. But we are in a really strong position.

Dutton was bullish about the commercial performance of the tournament which has “smashed our targets”.

“From a commercial perspective, we’ve already exceeded our commercial target significantly. We are being approached in some really interesting, different areas, that this sport has never been in.

“We’ve reached out to all of our commercial partners including the prospects and they’re really keen to stay with us on the journey so watch this space, we hope for some exciting news over the coming weeks.”

Organisers were a little more circumspect about ticket sales, with 250,000 tickets sold against an original target of 750,000 for matches which are mostly being held across the North of England. Dutton acknowledged sales to the more fervent rugby league supporters had been slow, a consequence of Covid-19 but also of a sport that doesn’t usually have any matches sell out in advance.

He said: “We know in surveying the rugby league core they were always going to buy, they were probably going to buy a little bit later,” he said. “I am very confident that when we republish the schedule, we will achieve our original ticket targets.”

Ticket holders will be offered a refund now and again once the 2022 schedule has been confirmed.

Dutton added: “I absolutely understand some people will be upset, disappointed, angry, frustrated, and perhaps they’ll take the chance to ask for a refund. I’d be very confident that the majority of people will stay with us, and we very much hope that they do.”

A postponement became inevitable after Australia and New Zealand – who between them have won the previous nine tournaments – pulled out, citing player safety concerns.

Dutton believes there “would have been a domino effect” of other countries pulling out, making it impossible to stage a “credible” tournament.

“We did come close to cancellation,” he said. “Ultimately, the least worst option was to postpone.”

The tournament will now take place in autumn 2022 although it will continue to be known as the Rugby League World Cup 2021.

Dutton admitted to being “very conscious” of football’s 2022 World Cup, which begins on November 21 next year. “We wouldn’t expect to go against that,” he said.

That will require the tournament to be brought forward by at least a week from the 2021 schedule, which may need support from the Super League and NRL competitions.

Some changes to venues are also expected when a fixture schedule is confirmed, which organisers hope to be able to do before Christmas.

“For us, this has always been about the players,” added Dutton. “As administrators, we don’t have a right to take away the hopes and dreams of players to play in a tournament, and for that reason we fought so hard to ensure that we could stage the World Cup. Unfortunately, that will be next year.”