The Death of the Regional Rugby Fan.
Debates being had this week once again on the issue of attendance for Welsh regional home games, as the collective head scratching goes on. Why do 60,000 Welsh fans turn up in Cardiff to watch a game on the television, while barely any of those numbers can bring themselves out to watch their regional sides complete against the best in Europe? One wonders really how there can be a debate at all when you give some consideration to the statistics pulled out by the BBC on the subject.
•Scarlets – 7243 (7 games)
•Blues – 6723 (6 games)
•Ospreys – 6528 (8 games)
•Dragons – 4766 (4 games)
Average attendances certainly nothing to shout home about, especially at the Dragons where the Newport region has become the latest in Wales to unveil a shiny new stand, only to have nobody sitting in it. But take a look at the other statistic, some Welsh regions have enjoyed 8 home games, others have enjoyed only 4. It is this inconsistency that is at the heart of the problem. What games are played at home for the Welsh regions are dramatically inconsistent, and more to the point, when they are played, nobody knows what day they will be on. Saturday afternoon perhaps, Sunday lunchtime, Friday night, sometimes even Thursdays and Wednesdays have played host to key Welsh regional home games. And the powers that be wonder why the crowds stay away?
It’s quite simple. WRU, regions, if you want crowds, say ‘tough luck’ to television, and put games where they belong, at 2.30pm on a Saturday afternoon. The only way the current mess of a fixture list can be sustained is to move the whole season into the summer, simply, people do not like standing in driving rain on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon. It might be tolerated on a Saturday, but not anywhere else. The Millennium Stadium example in the rugby world cup is a critically flawed one, why, because the damn thing has a roof! No cold, no wind, only comfort and convenience.
If this hand wringing from the regions about attendances is sincere, they might for a moment think about what fans want, because whatever their market research suggests (for instance, market research suggests Welsh fans like Friday night Six Nations games – I know of not one fan who agrees with that sentiment), the evidence on the ground is not backing it up.
Save crowds, sell for Saturdays.