Rugby Ticket Rip-off at Lansdowne 11 – Conor Pope reports


RUGBY TICKET PRICES: HOW WOULD YOU like to see the rugby giants of New Zealand run riot this autumn? With tickets costing between €32.50 and €55 (or just €11 for a child), it seems like excellent value and we have to take our hat of to the rugby authorities for pricing the tickets so fairly in the middle of the darkest recession in more than 70 years.

Sadly, it is not the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) who deserve the kudos for this enlightened pricing strategy. All praise should be directed at their counterparts in Scotland. The upcoming match in Murrayfield is operating under a three-tiered pricing system with tickets selling for £45 (€54.99), €25 (€30.55) or €11.26 (£10) for schools.

When the Irish prices for the four autumn internationals against South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Samoa were announced, there were howls of protest as the IRFU tried to sell them as a package with stand tickets costing €340, an average of €85 per ticket. People who shelled out these sums would have to have gone to the matches – a couple of which might be less than brilliant – on four consecutive Saturdays throughout November, a big ask for any fan, but particularly those who live considerable distances from the Dublin 4 ground.

It is clear that Irish rugby fans who want to go to the Aviva Stadium are being asked to pay substantially more than rugby supporters elsewhere.

The ticket prices for South Africa against Australia in Pretoria this year are €48.43 and €38.67; while Australia versus New Zealand in Sydney is €62.62. So two adults and two children can see two of the best teams in the world battle it out for €140.71. Closer to home England against Samoa at Twickenham will cost between €30.55 and €79.43 (for the very best seats in the house), while school children will pay €12.20. Ticket prices for France’s game against Australia next month will cost between €15 and €110 – with all but the most expensive tickets costing less than €75.

The IRFU has claimed it needs the money to develop and nurture the game but after the protests over this four-game package reached an almost deafening crescendo, it was forced to rethink its strategy. After discussions with the provinces and clubs, it agreed that tickets for the November test series could be broken into a pair of two-game packages.

The South Africa/Samoa matches now has a price tag of €150 while and the New Zealand/Argentina games will set fans back €190. As always the match tickets will be distributed through the provincial branches and clubs.

When it comes to the Six Nations – which is a much bigger draw – the prices are also steep. Tickets for Ireland’s home matches against France and England are being sold as a package at a cost of €250 for an adult for the two games and €80 for children. A family of two adults and two children going to see Ireland in the spring will have to shell out €660 and that is before any questionably priced “gourmet” burgers and drinks sold in and around the ground are added to the mix.

You’d want to be a big fan with big pockets to shell out such sums and sources within the club structure have spoken of a slow take-up for the autumn series.

The IRFU points out that it is a not-for-profit organisation and the only dividend it produces is one of participation in sport. It says the Ireland squad and international games at the Aviva Stadium need to produce a financial surplus that is then fully distributed throughout all levels of the game.

In an interview published in this newspaper last Friday the Union’s chief executive Phillip Browne defended the ticket pricing. He said the IRFU was working off a shoestring and claimed that if it started reducing ticket prices to the extent that it actually impacts the professional game, we wont have competitive teams. If we dont have competitive teams, well find that we wont get the support were getting at national and provincial level.

Critics are not convinced. Broadcaster George Hook is a particularly trenchant one. He says the IRFU has handled its pricing strategy appallingly since the new stadium opened. “Trying to bundle the tickets as a package of four in the current economic climate was outrageous and made the IRFU look greedy and grasping and made the sport look middle-class,” he says.

Bill Tormey is a member of Lansdowne Rugby Club, a Fine Gael councillor and lifelong rugby fan — he has missed just four Irish home internationals since 1961. He and Hook are on the same page when it comes to the pricing. “The IRFU is charged with developing the game and has been hugely successful but this is a regressive step.

“They are shutting out a huge swathe of people who are interested in the game. They are effectively killing the game or turning it into what it used to be in the 1980s, an elite game with upper-middle class supporters in Dublin and Belfast and a working class backbone from Limerick.” He says the pricing piles up the pressure on families and “shows the folly of the undersized stadium which must be used to bleed dry rugby people”.

The IRFU sells all tickets through the nation’s clubs. Hook says the union is “blackmailing” the clubs into taking a set allocation or run the risk of getting a reduced allocation for the Six Nations matches, tickets for which are “like gold dust.”

Hook says it is “all well and good selling tickets to the fellow in the suede coat and sharp tie in Dublin 4” but it quite a different matter trying to sell these tickets to fans around the country who have to add on the cost of transportation, food and accommodation on to the ticket price.

“The real outrage is that they have trebled the price of the schoolboy tickets. The purpose of the IRFU is to grow the game and the schoolboy places were a great tradition. Now they are saying that because they are providing seating they can charge more which will have the affect of making it an elite sport,” he says.

Of course it is not just the IRFU which has questions to answer. When the stadium was being built, the FAI was brimful of confidence that it would have no problem selling tickets and it predicted that there would be never be tickets on general sale because of advance block bookings and premium seat sales. It didn’t quite pan out that way. People baulked at paying anywhere from €12,000 to €32,000 for 10- year Vantage Club tickets “Everybody knows at this stage we’re in a different climate. It’s a different economy,” conceded the FAI’s John Delaney.

When it comes to soccer, Irish prices have been higher for a long time. At the climax of the qualification process for the World Cup, last year the FAI bundled tickets for the final two home games against Italy and Montenegro and charged €100, €140 or €170 per person for tickets to both. In Copenhagen, tickets for a crucial Denmark versus Sweden game ranged from 210 Kroner (€28) to 475 Kroner (€63). French fans were charged €10 for a seat with the gods at Stade de France and €80 for a seat on the half-way line. The Italian FA charged between €10 and €60 while access to Wembley cost between £14.50 (€15.60) and £58.50 (€63).

But back to Murrayfield: one of the reasons tickets for the Scottish match against New Zealandn next month are so cheap is because the popularity of the game there has dwindled and its union has struggled to fill the stadium for a decade. Irish officials will hope they don’t find themselves in a similar position in 2020.