Which time slot do Newcastle Knights fans prefer for home games?

THE numbers are surprising, but they might provide a degree of comfort for Knights officials.

BUMS ON SEATS: A bumper crowd of 23,516 attended Newcastle’s season-opener against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium in March. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

As we wait for theNRL to officially announce its season schedule on Thursday, it appearsNewcastle’s powers-that-be are already kicking stonesbehind the scenes.

Their angst surrounds the likelihood thatSunday games at McDonald Jones Stadium next season will be few and far between, or at least outnumbered byFriday 6pm fixtures.

Sunday afternoonshave traditionally been the preferred option for Novocastrian fans, while the weekly 6pm-Friday time slothas been regarded as a crowd-killer across the NRL since its introduction two years ago. Yet somequick number crunching suggestsperhaps, in Newcastle’s unique case, there isno great cause for concern.

In the past two seasons, the Knights have played in six Friday-6pm games on home turf.

Those games have attracted crowds of 23,516, 22,718, 14,801, 18,561 (this year) and 16,929 and 21,412 (last year).

That amounts to an average attendance of 19,656 –which is higher than Newcastle’s average overall crowds of 18,974 last season and 15,619 in 2017.

During the same two campaigns, the Knights have played at home six times on Sunday afternoons, for crowds of 20,913 and 14,802 this year, and 10,997, 13,319,19,531 and 20,535 in 2017.

That’s an average crowd of 16,682.In other words, during an identical sample period (six games), their Friday 6pm crowds were close to 3000 better, on average, than those on Sunday afternoons.

Moreover, the average Sunday crowd is smaller than the combinedaverage attendance at McDonald Jones Stadium over the past two seasons (17,296).

If the Knights have been lockedin for more than what they consider their fair share of Friday 6pm games next season, then that is presumably because the NRL have recognised that Newcastle has somehow defied a trend.

Three of the NRL’s top five Friday 6pm crowds last season were at McDonald Jones Stadium. The only larger turnouts were for South Sydney and Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Good Friday (32,471), and the Warriors’ final-round game against Canberra (24,595), which was veteran Simon Mannering’s farewell appearance.

And remember that in Auckland, it was actually an 8pm kick-off.

At almost every other venue –in particular Brookvale, which posted embarrassing attendances of 5715 and 6382 –Friday 6pm meant a dent in gate-takings.

The across-the-board Friday-6pm average of 14,492 last season was more than 5000 fewerthan the Knights attracted.

Why is Newcastle such an anomaly? Well obviously Knights fans are famously parochial and passionate, but also they can get toMcDonald Jones Stadium with a comparative lack of hassle.

The bottom line, of course, is the more games a team wins, the bigger their crowds …and the more leverage they have when the NRL are scheduling games.