SATURDAY’S Challenge Cup triple header drew mixed reviews – with plenty of negative comments starting five days before the event when early ticket sale figures were announced.

The overwhelming view of vocal fan social media suggests it is time to ditch the concept of three matches at a big venue and retreat to standalone semis in more modest surrounds.

But first the positives, the biggest of which was the viewing figures peaking at more than a million for the Saints v Wigan game on BBC1, representing the highest share of TV audience for a rugby league in this country since 2017 World Cup Final.

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Getting eyeballs on the game is vital for the sport’s growth and recognition – and again this underlines the importance of terrestrial television.

Inside the ground 5,888 fans had made their way inside for the Women’s Final – and it obviously helped that Saints were in both events.

From a broadcast point of view, the BBC will be happy with those figures and from a logistics point of view having the crew set up in the morning and rolling through the day no doubt cut costs and was far more convenient.

The needs of the broadcast partner are an important consideration – but not the only one.

And when fans vote with their feet even the broadcaster has to take note – not least because those one million eyeballs are looking at row upon row of empty seats.

It does get noticed; recalling Alistair Campbell’s 2018 interview with Eddie Hearn, who had been urged to become rugby league’s saviour, the promoter said: “I turned on the Super League game on Sky and there was nobody there…”

In the RFL’s defence moving towards the initial double header concept in 2018 was a bold move at creating a special event after a decade of modest ambitions when it came to the semis.

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The first double header of Saints v Catalans, Warrington v Leeds pulled in 26,086 just 2,000 short of capacity at the Bolton Wanderers stadium.

There was a drop the following year but still 24,364 inside the same venue.

This year’s gate was 22,141, not a remarkable drop, but for some it is more the appearance in a 38,000-capacity Elland Road venue that magnified that.

If you go for a venue of that size, you have to back it up with a commitment to build it. Alas there is not an organisation with staff in place with the expertise to do that at the moment.

Marketing is one of the traditionally weak areas of the game that the proposed link up with a new partner will address – particularly for the big events.

Saturday looked even worse when the fans of Wigan and Saints departed after the first semi. Thankfully Hull KR took plenty – apparently selling more tickets than any of the other combatants.

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For many it was not simply the size of the venue or the tight seats, but the location. The wisdom of sending Wigan and Saints fans across the Pennines for a local derby at a time when petrol prices are significantly higher than last year was questioned.

And then there was other transport concerns; most coaches to the game seemed to be fully booked days before the effects of the Challenge Cup media day had kicked in promoting the event.

That probably made it easier for fans to sit at home and join the million viewers watching at home.

Staying on finance, we also have to look at timing.

Having the semi and final within the same monthly pay date was always going to bite. Plenty of fans – and who could blame them – calculated that if you can only afford one ticket/transport package then it has to be for the final.

The obvious answer is to allow at least five weeks between semi and final, but again this is a juggle between the game’s authorities, the broadcaster and dependent on stadium availability.

This year has been even worse given the season has been squashed together due to the early finish for the World Cup.

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But sticking with costs, at a time when every household is feeling the squeeze with household bills, gas and electric, food and transport costs all rising higher than wage increases something has to give.

Luxury items, socialising, leisure and entertainment are the first things that go when individuals and families have to tighten their belts to pay for essentials.

This could be a tough period for rugby league – particularly given the make-up of its heartlands and the sport’s core support is probably being hammered more than most.

The answer is not to cut prices for big cup games. No organisation can start devaluing its product and charge the same for its most prestigious knockout as it does for testimonial games.

Instead of that, in future years could we look at incentivising buying a ticket for the semi-final with a reduction on the price of the cup final ticket or would that be a nightmare to administer?

But the simple change – on cost to fans and filling a stadium – should be a reversion to more local and more modest semi-final venues.

The halcyon days of 70,198 packing into Odsal for cup semi in 1950, when nobody had a telly, have long gone - and for now so too so has the 26,000 plus that attended Old Trafford and Maine Road in the early noughties.

For the short term the game needs to revert to single semis played at quality and accessible rugby league venues that a good sales and marketing team should aspire to fill like St Helens, Warrington, Wigan and Headingley with the Women’s Final continuing to be played at one of those as fits best.

As for the final, stick with the 1895 Cup Final as a curtain raiser.

Not only does it keep the whole sport together on the big stage, allowing non Super League teams a day on the big stage, but it will also give ticket sales a boost for the event itself.