Sale Sharks are caught in something of a vicious circle.
A 20-29 defeat at home to Bath was obviously not the start we were hoping for. It could be argued that after only two pre-season games the squad were a little bit under cooked. Indiscipline and individual errors (which should be eradicated as the season goes on) also played their part. As did JP Doyle, in his usual role as pantomime villain, with some astonishingly bad decisions.
But look below the result in the newspaper and you will see the attendance, 5353. It was hoped by the club that a mixture of moving kick offs to 2pm Saturdays, the excitement of a new season and new players and the improved form of the team would increase the number of fans coming to watch.
That hope was sadly misplaced. On an afternoon when neither of the big two Premier League teams in the area were playing, Sale recorded an attendance figure lower than any home league game last season.
Now, let me lay my cards on the table. I wasn’t there either. I fell in love with the club whilst at University in Manchester in the early 90s. I now live in Kent and for a number of reasons can’t make it to home games ( I do try and see them when they’re South of the Watford Gap though!). Does this make me a hypocrite? Probably, yes. But I am entitled to an opinion.
There is also something more serious at stake than the team playing to a half full stadium. Steve Diamond has stated on numerous occasions that to break even the club need to be attracting crowds of 7000-8000. When you consider that the average attendance last season was 6350 you can see the numbers don’t add up.
Without an increase in revenue the club can not attract the calibre of player to improve the team. Without that improvement can the club challenge the top four and ultimately become champions again? Without that on field success can the club attract more people to watch?
And that is the vicious circle.
How do you get out of it? I’m not pretending to know the answer to that, but something has to change as what’s happening now clearly isn’t working.
The club will hope that the move to Saturday afternoons will help. We will have to wait and see if rugby can compete with a myriad of other sports in the region on the same day. And of course the club’s excellent academy will continue to produce players that can be fitted in cheaply but are they really going to help us challenge the likes of Saracens and Northampton?
The supporters who do turn up also need a reason to come back. And I’m not talking about events on the field. Somewhere to park, the quality of the food and drink, a working scoreboard all add to the experience. Perhaps worse of all at Sale at the moment is the lack of a big screen for TMO replays. On three occasions Saturday the crowd were left in limbo as the referee checked decisions, not knowing for what or to who. In the 21st Century is the really good enough?
Remember, the supporters are the only ones who pay to enter the ground. No one else does. Start treating them like second class citizens they will soon vote with their feet.
Then where will we be?