Northern Hemisphere Rugby Cities: top-flight Union and League

SALFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 15: General view of play during the Carnegie Challenge Cup Semi Final match between Huddersfield Giants and Warrington Wolves at Salford City Stadium on July 15, 2012 in Salford, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

There are a total of only two Northern Hemisphere rugby cities with a first-tier rugby league and union team in the northern hemisphere.

One city, Salford, in the Greater Manchester area of the UK, has rugby league and union teams that date back to the 19th century.

This is while Toronto, Canada, a city where rugby union enjoys relative popularity, only got professional teams in both codes of rugby recently.

Northern Hemisphere Rugby Cities with both League and Rugby

Canada – Toronto, Ontario

Toronto is the most populous city in Canada. They have several professional sports teams such as basketball, soccer, box lacrosse, and ice hockey. Rugby union is also relatively popular in Toronto as attendances can go above 20,000 for Canada rugby union games at BMO Field. Rugby league also has a prominent presence in Toronto as the Canada Wolverines rugby league team can draw over 7,000 fans at Lamport Stadium.

In terms of professional sports teams, rugby league is surprisingly the more popular sport. The Toronto Wolfpack averaged 7,882 fans per game last year. This included setting an attendance record for a rugby league game in Canada. In the Championship Grand Final, the Toronto Wolfpack drew 9,974 fans against the Featherstone Rovers.

Toronto’s pro rugby union team had an average attendance of 1,913 fans per game at Alumni Field (York University) and 2,488 fans per game at Lamport Stadium. This is good attendance for Major League Rugby (MLR), but it does not compare with the attendance of the Toronto Wolfpack.

Three reasons could be a larger budget, better marketing, and the Wolfpack being born before the Arrows. Lastly, the fourth reason could be the Toronto Wolfpack being the first-ever transatlantic team in the social media era.

United Kingdom – Salford, England

Salford, like Toronto, has both codes of rugby play games in one stadium. The minor difference is that the Arrows play their home games at Alumni Field (York University) in addition to Lamport Stadium.

However, there are several similarities between Salford and Toronto.

The most surprising similarity is rugby union being more popular than rugby league in Salford. The Sale Sharks, Salford’s professional rugby union team is the most popular rugby team in Salford. The Salford Red Devils also have a presence, but not nearly as popular as the Sharks. The Sharks averaged 6,586 fans per game in the 2018-19 Premiership season. The Red Devils averaged 3,676 fans per game in the 2019 Super League season.

This is despite Salford being in northern England, which is the heartland of rugby league. One reason could be that the Sale Sharks are one of only two teams in northern England, and the only northern team in the 2019/20 Premiership. The other reason could be that 10 of the 12 teams in the first-tier Super League are in northern England.

However, the Red Devils have been more successful in the last few years. In the 2019 season, they made it to their first-ever Super League final at Manchester against the Wigan Warriors. They, however, would lose the Grand Final to St. Helens R.F.C.

This balance may tip again following the announcement that the Sharks plan to relocate back to Sale, building a new stadium and sports village.

Overview of Cities that play both Rugby League and Union

One might wonder why New York City was not included on this list. They have a pro rugby union team with Rugby United New York. However, the rugby league New York City team has not been officially confirmed by the Rugby Football League (RFL).

Toronto does not have a history of professional rugby compared to the rest of the cities on this list in the northern hemisphere. However, as time goes on, expect both the Arrows and the Wolfpack to become more popular and established.

This elite list is likely to grow as the years go on. This is especially true when the expansion of both codes of rugby continues in North America.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

3 COMMENTS

  1. However crowds for rugby league in Manchester dwarf those of rugby union.

    Rugby league has had regular crowds of over 50,000 in Manchester since before the Second World War.

    The Super League Grand Final has in excess of 70,000 spectators every year at Old Trafford, Manchester. Rugby union has no regular matches attracting such spectator numbers in Manchester.

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