Hurling crowds hit by Six Nations clash
FEWER than 14,000 paying customers watched the first round of Allianz Hurling League Division 1 games over the weekend as it came off a clear second best to rugby.
Despite a sustained marketing campaign for the leagues and a reduction in ticket prices, stands were left largely empty on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
The biggest attendance was the repeat of last year's All-Ireland final between Tipperary and Kilkenny at Semple Stadium. But despite the intense rivalry between these neighbours, only 9,465 attended.
Waterford and Dublin served up a thriller in Walsh Park but the estimate of the host county board was that just 2,500 paid to watch it.
Pairc Ui Chaoimh was cavernous as just 1,406 watched last year's beaten finalists Cork finish with five points to spare against Offaly. In Pearse Stadium, barely 600 paid in to see Galway trounce Wexford.
The figures will disappoint officials who have put innovative ticketing packages together and have driven a more sustained media campaign in the weeks building up to the opening weekend. The reduction in admission prices from €15 to €13 looks like it has not had an impact either.
There were mitigating factors attached to such paltry attendances. The three Sunday fixtures clashed with Ireland's Six Nations match against France.
TG4 showed delayed coverage (to accommodate the Munster match in the Magners League) of Galway v Wexford and deferred coverage of Waterford v Dublin.
Weather was another factor, especially for those who might have stayed away from Semple Stadium.
GAA officials won't be too discouraged, because the football league fixtures last weekend were better attended across the board.
Traditionally, attendances for league hurling matches improve towards the end of the campaign when the weather improves.
Meanwhile, attention turns this weekend to Croke Park and how Dublin's marketing drive to hit 50,000 for their double bill against All-Ireland football and hurling champions Cork and Tipperary will fare. Organisers are hoping that sales will be brisk in the two to three days leading up to Saturday night.
It has been estimated that up to 20,000 tickets have been sold to date.
Dublin are offering attendance to the four Croke Park events over the next two months for €45.
Three of the games are taking place on Saturday nights, but the football game against Mayo is still fixed for a Sunday afternoon. Dublin had tried to persuade Mayo to play on Friday night, sandwiched between the All-Ireland club finals and the rugby international against England.
It was planned to have Dublin-born singer Imelda May as the musical attraction on the night. Now it looks like Horslips will be the entertainment for the Sunday game.