IRFU right on the money in reducing cost of tickets
If form on the field can be fickle, then off the field it can be pretty ropey as well. Take the IRFU. Last week was a good one and -- irrespective of the motive behind the timing -- the spin and, more importantly, the substance was positive with Connacht Rugby given medium-term security (of at least a three-year duration) for the first time in its professional existence.
For this, the Union, in declaring its hand, has acted in the best interests of Irish rugby. It is a good news story and one that slips some added and timely pressure on Minister Eamon Ryan in his worrying 'free-to-air' stance on the sport.
Indeed, it was the second good vibe emanating from Lansdowne Road in as many weeks, with the governing body also announcing a much more sensible ticket-pricing structure for the upcoming Six Nations. Some would argue it to be too little too late, but it's better late than never.
What the original Union ticket prices for the season (Autumn Series and Six Nations) reflected was a fundamental arrogance. To the insensitive powers that be, an Irish economy fast-flowing down the European plug hole didn't really register.
The misguided principle by which they operated suggested they were thinking, 'Well if we can put 82,000 into Dublin 3, then putting 50,000-plus into Dublin 4, even when charging top dollar, will be a doddle'. It was almost as if they thought the game was beyond the recession.
They got it badly wrong. We were told in no uncertain terms that the crowd for the Samoan game was a record attendance for the fixture. Wowee. Of much more relevance is the fact that in not one of the four November Internationals did Ireland play before a full house.
The message to the watching world -- certainly for the South African, Samoan and Argentinian games -- was one of a nation that had had enough; one that recognised exploitation, in terms of pricing and packaging, for what it was. The fact that the All Blacks, a side in their playing pomp, failed to fill the national stadium for a fully fledged international said it all.
There are three home games you'd think would be guaranteed to sell out. The visit of New Zealand is one, with the French and English in the Six Nations being the other two. At least the marketing committee have had their 'Damascus Moment' and seen sense.
The new ticketing arrangement (for the Six Nations and presumably beyond) sees a revised pricing structure across five categories, with reductions ranging from 10pc in category one seats, to over 60pc for schoolboys and schoolgirls. Quite how some genius came up with slapping a price tag of €40 on a ticket for schoolchildren in the first place beggars belief.
I wish there were many more than the 1,800 schoolboy/schoolgirl slots available but, equally, the financial needs of the professional game have to be met. At least there is now some sense of reality and balance to the equation.
The bottom line is that the chance to see full-on rugby in the flesh is being brought back to the next generation of players at a time and an age when it impacts upon them most. Amen to that.
On a personal level, I have two further gripes. First of all, as an ex-international I am given the opportunity to purchase two tickets for each game by way of application at the beginning of the season.
Indeed, if truth be known, it is actually before the season begins. This year we received the application form in July (the 23rd, to be precise). The application is pretty straightforward except, that is, for one sentence underlined and in bold type. It reads:
Dear Mr Ward
Due to unprecedented interest in the new Aviva Stadium, this form must be returned to the undersigned no later than Friday 13th August, otherwise your reservation cannot be guaranteed.
The point being here is that unless we purchase the full amount of tickets for the season -- ie four November Internationals and two Six Nations games -- there is no guarantee of tickets. So, over seven months before the final game is played (in this case March 19, 2011, against England) the Union have our dosh in their account earning interest at our expense.
To rub salt into the wounds, tickets for the Argentina game (originally priced at €90) were then advertised and sold by the Leinster Branch at half price. As a player in an age when we cost the IRFU peanuts (and yes, we were the proverbial monkeys), when we travelled everywhere at the back of the bus and when we were billed for everything beyond daily meals, the joke was on us. We were victims of our time. What we would have given to have had an organisation like IRUPA or the GPA fighting our cause.
And lest you doubt old habits die hard, then what about this wonderful concession by the Union, again to us ex-internationals. And forgive me in advance if I don't sound overly grateful!
This one was sent on November 1 and reads:
Dear Former International
With Irish Rugby returning home to the Aviva Stadium, I would like to make you aware of a post-match facility the Union is trialling for former internationals to meet up after international games. (A nice idea done in times past in a tent behind the old East Stand).
There are four wristbands enclosed.
The bar (please note THIS IS A PAY BAR and will also be patronised by Premium ticket holders) is located in the West Stand at the Presidents Area on Level 02.
Please note there is NO ACCESS to this area pre-match as it is used for another function and that this is a pay facility and is subject to change depending on IRFU and stadium requirements.
Now forgive me if I sound mean-minded, but would it be too much to expect even one complimentary drink, perhaps a mineral water? Even still water would do! Maybe our hard-up governing body could even look to get a sponsor on board to cover the 'astronomical' cost.
It's significant too that Premium ticket-holders have access to the same area. Of course, not for a minute would I dare suggest that it be used as a selling point for hard-to-shift tickets. Perish the thought.
Thank God that Heineken Cup rugby is back with us. Good riddance to the November Series for 2010. On the field, and off it, our form has been fickle, but one thing's for sure with our administrative body: no matter how much things change, in some sadly ingrained ways, they'll forever stay the same.
We should be more grateful I know, but these are cynical times in which we live. As for the ex-players' bar? Thanks but no thanks.