So today, ticket price details were released for the 2015 Rugby World Cup that shall be held on home soil in England (and Cardiff). England is the country that invented the game and that has the most participants playing the game on the planet. However, many of these participants have unfortunately been priced out of watching this magnificent event by the tournament organisers quest for making as much money as possible. Now, I’m certainly not a financial expert and fully understand that it is vital to the IRB to make a profit from this tournament, especially given that New Zealand made a loss of $40,000,000 following the 2011 event, but in doing this, they’ve run the risk of many pool stage games embarrassingly being played with thousands of empty seats.
There is no doubt that all knockout stage games will sell out due to their magnitude and I have zero qualms in what price the money makers set out for these fixtures. However, what makes the Rugby World Cup special is the way that the locals have in the past, adopted the so called minnows. This was especially prevalent during the 2003 and 2007 events in Australia and France respectively, which co-incidentally were also the best two Rugby World Cup tournaments that have been contested. In 03, organisers managed to rally locals into buying 20,000 for a game between Romania and Namibia in the sleepy Tasmanian town of Launceston, not a place noted as a Rugby hotbed. Four years later and Romania played Portugal in front of nearly 36,000 people in Toulouse thanks to smart ticketing strategies and the love for the game of French people. That World cup was played with 96% capacity, due to again, exceptional pricing policies.
The issue this time is however, how organisers will get the fence sitting rugby fan to fork out £50 to go and watch Argentina against Tonga in the soulless King Power Stadium in Leicester? Would anybody be foolish enough to pay anything exceeding the £15 cheapest spots for a game such as Namibia v Georgia or Canada v Russia? While £15 is a good price, there is the realisation that these seats will only be a fraction of the capacity and that many people will have to pay £35, £65 or £85 to watch these games between the smaller, less commercially attractive rugby nations. This is before we get onto the issue of bringing in new fans to the game of Rugby Union. If Wales can barely fill 50% of seats for an international against Tonga in which tickets started at £25, what chance do 2015 tournament organisers have of filling the same 74,000 seater stadium for a game between Ireland and Canada, Australia and Fiji and Wales and Uruguay (potential play off winner) when ticket prices are double that of the Wales v Tonga international?
If we go back to the summer of 2012, how many people were captivated by the sport of Diving despite having never watched it before? The fact is, major television exposure of this exciting, growing and unique event will bring a new audience, possibly an audience full of young people. When these young people see the ticket prices throughout the tournament they will immediately be turned off from going to see live Rugby Union and once the World Cup ends, they shall lose interest in the game and turn to competitors. Thus, not inspiring the next generation to pick up a rugby ball. Also, given that many games are to be held in football stadiums, here is ample opportunity to allow football fans into Rugby Union to enjoy a family atmosphere and a fine spectacle. At £50 a ticket, can you now see this happening? Not a chance.
Today signals the start of the ticketing campaign and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Answers will hopefully prove the doubters like myself wrong, but I, like many thousands of others remain sceptical. We don’t want the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England to be remembered as a corporate circus.