Friday Knights ‘vital for survival’

Tony de Mulder

Tony de Mulder

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KNIGHTS president Tony De Mulder has slammed criticism of the decision to switch home games to Friday nights and insists the move is essential to sustain the club’s place in the Championship.

De Mulder has been angered by critics of the board’s decision.

He also insists the main priority in the near future will be to consolidate in English rugby’s second tier and that a push for the Premiership is a long way off.

De Mulder said: “The situation we find ourselves in is that the Knights have to rely for funding on the money we receive from our two main sponsors and central funding from the RFU, at 60 and 40 per cent respectively.

“This is not sustainable if we wish to consolidate our position in the Championship, yet alone have ambitions for the Premiership.

“Our main sponsorship will not go on forever.

“We need to generate additional income by either finding more sponsors and/or driving up our average gates.

“Without this additional income, Championship rugby is not sustainable for the Knights in the longer term - that is the first and most important issue we have to address.”

De Mulder points to falling attendances and an ageing support base as two factors which much be addressed in order to ensure the club’s future in the Championship.

Crowd figures at Castle Park have dropped by 40 per cent according to De Mulder, a figure which would have been worse but for the record gate against local rivals Rotherham Titans in February.

De Mulder said: “We’ve tried to arrest this decline by various ticketing initiatives but not only have these not been particularly successful, they have also not been welcomed by many of our season ticket holders.

“The second issue, which we believe is related to the first, is that we have to change the nature of our support, the demographic.

“In a nutshell we have an ageing supporter base which is something we must change.

“Friday nights could increase our crowds and also lower the average age of our supporters while retaining the seasoned followers.”

The reaction of some supporters has not sat well with De Mulder but he has appealed to critics to get behind the scheme in order to safeguard the future of the club.

He also asked supporters to keep faith with the board that helped the club through eight promotions up to the second tier.

De Mulder said: “The board were entitled to make this decision in accordance with club rules and a request for a special meeting would therefore have been seen as a vote of no confidence.

“The current board contains the nucleus of members who helped drive Doncaster from Yorkshire Two through eight promotions to the heady heights we’ve achieved as one of the 24 best rugby union sides in England.

“I know some people will be against Friday night rugby and I respect their views.

“Not everyone on the board is in favour of Friday night rugby from a personal viewpoint but all directors accept that doing nothing is not an option.

“The proposal was debated at length before deciding we had to give it a go.”

De Mulder insists the playing staff are also behind the move and are excited about the potential for a special atmosphere under the lights at Castle Park.

On the struggle to attract large crowds, De Mulder also pointed to a factor often mentioned by his counterparts at the town’s other clubs – that the Doncaster sporting public rarely comes out in force.

De Mulder said: “Doncaster as a town does not support its professional sports teams well and even Rovers have struggled to achieve a satisfactory level of support.

“Regrettably we are not in a rugby-mad area so we have an even bigger struggle than them.

“Unfortunately there is no magic formula to prove whether Friday night rugby will be successful or not.

“We cannot continue as we are and I would ask all those who are against this or doubtful to support the decision and help us try and make Friday night a success.

“This is a trial season and we need the help of the people.

“Our aim is to make the Knights successful and the best way we can all do this is to drive up crowds and increase matchday revenue so we can develop a sustainable business and make more funds available for the squad.”

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