Cougars chairman Gary Fawcett is giving away 20,000 free junior season tickets in each of the next six years in a dramatic bid to boost crowds at Cougar Park.
Fawcett is hoping the initiative will see Keighley regularly top the 3,000 mark next season after an average home gate of just over 1,100 in 2012.
With last season’s junior season ticket costing £40, he believes the substantial ‘investment’ in the Cougars’ fanbase will help create a sporting legacy in Keighley as the club ultimately push towards a potential Super League return.
Fawcett said: “I believe this is unique and the first time any sports club – let alone a rugby league club – has ever done this.
“Keighley Cougars have a proud track record as innovators in the game, starting in the 1990s with Cougarmania.
“We are leading the way in the sport again with this latest initiative and aim to distribute the season tickets through the amateur clubs and local schools network.”
Fawcett is realistic enough to accept that persuading youngsters to take up the offer will be a challenge.
But he believes the club’s crowds cannot fail to grow on the back of it and added: “Obviously not every child who receives a ticket will want to watch rugby league but we are expecting anything between a five per cent and ten per cent take up, based on flyers we issued for free child entry last season.
“This should mean that our average crowd next season should be well over 3,000 and superior to some Super League teams.
“We have an existing fanbase in excess of 1,000 and expect to attract around 1,400 children through the free junior season tickets.
“Then you also have the extra adults that will be coming with them and, for the likes of Halifax at home, we could be looking at a crowd of over 4,000.
“It’s also a chance to build on the Olympic legacy, and the fact that so many youngsters have access to their local rugby league club could also boost the take-up of the sport.
“Back in the 1995 season, we had an average gate of 5,539 but the population of Keighley has grown considerably since then.”
There are growing calls for an end to the Super League licensing system and a return to the promotion and relegation.
Fawcett added: “The reason why we are targeting this for six years is that if rugby leagues continues with the questionable three-year franchise system for entry into Super League then Keighley Cougars have two opportunities to apply for entry, in 2014 for the 2015 season and in 2017 for the 2018 season. “I believe our best opportunity for entry into Super League will be for the 2018 season if rugby league continues with the three-year franchise system. “However, it is currently being reviewed and we hope that a more sensible promotion/demotion system could be implemented. “Fans want jeopardy and I believe the best way forward for rugby league is to open up the professional game to promotion/demotion. It makes every season far more exciting.”
Meanwhile, stand-off Jordan Aitchison is training with Cougars following the end of his one-year part-time contract at Bradford.
The East Morton youngster left Odsal after the Bulls’ Under-20s side was disbanded.