Monday 18 December 2017

Thomond Park director launches staunch defence of ticket sales for Andy Lee fight

Lee will now defend his crown against Billy Joe Saunders in the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena on Saturday, October 10
Lee will now defend his crown against Billy Joe Saunders in the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena on Saturday, October 10

David Raleigh

The director of Thomond Park has come out fighting and defended ticket sales for the Andy Lee Billy Joe Saunders WBO World title boxing match, which was to be held at Thomond Park next month.

With five weeks to go, around 12,000 tickets - 8,000 in Ireland and 4,000 in the UK - had already been sold.

However, yesterday, promoters switched the fight to Manchester after Frank Warren stated Andy Lee had contacted a virus which could have effected his preparation for the scheduled fight in Limerick on September 19.

The fight will now take place on October 10 at the MEN Arena in Manchester, which holds a 21,000 capacity.

However, Thomond Park boss John Cantwell said ticket sales were on track - "worst case scenario" to deliver a minimum of 20,000 in sales.

Limerick is now counting the economic cost of loosing its first-ever world title boxing match, has cost it millions in lost revenue.

However, despite concerns by some, that low ticket sales was to blame, Mr Cantwell said: "There was never any concern expressed over ticket sales, or anything like that.

"I would have thought, from my experience, whether it's sport or concerts, that the ticket sales would have delivered what was necessary for the event to be a commercial success," he said.

Andy Lee, right, will now fight Billy Joe Saunders on October 10.
Andy Lee, right, will now fight Billy Joe Saunders on October 10.

Mr Cantwell said the promoters would have been advised well before organising the fight about the purchasing behaviour of Irish people with regards to event tickets.

"The nature of ticket sales in this country is that people buy late, especially in the run up, and that's how we would have predicted it to pan out," he said.

The Thomond Park chief said it was like a "bombshell" when he heard the venue had been switched.

"I found out yesterday. It was (a bombshell)," he said.

"We're not in a position to anything about it," he added.

Mr Cantwell said the figure of 12,000 tickets - with five weeks to go - was in normal for a big event in Limerick, and at a time when most locals are holidaying in the seaside town of Kilkee, Co Clare, known as a "Little Limerick".

"If you look at it in that case, with five weeks to a fight, you're talking minimum worst case scenario 20,000 plus ticket sales, which is a very good attendance for an event.

"Unless it's an Ed Sheeran or a Bruce Springsteen, tickets sell in the first couple of weeks, and boss about in the middle, and then spike significantly in the run in," Mr Cantwell said.

He added: "Everything up until yesterday was being planned to that effect."

Sean Lally, manager of the Strand Hotel, Limerick, - where Andy Lee and his training camp had booked 150 rooms in the run up to the fight - said it was a "strange" decision switch venues given the MEN in Manchester has a capacity of 25,000.

"We had Andy Lee's camp staying with us and they had booked out 150 rooms across seven days in the run up to the event and we are massively disappointed," Mr Lally said.

"It was new business to us because we had never actually catered for a big boxing event like this before, so everyone was excited. We would have looked at having a big ground floor beverage plan, because if your having 30,000 plus in Thomond Park, it would have had a huge impact on the hotel.

"I suppose Limerick will miss out on the fact that we are not staging a world title event which would have brought a huge media interest and a huge international interest," he added.

"I feel very sorry for Andy, and I hope he will win his title fight in Manchester, and perhaps you never know, maybe next summer in Thomond Park, might be a more suitable time to defend his title again," he said.

With quarter final European rugby games played at Thomond Park previously generating €10m to the local economy, Mr Lally said loosing Andy Lee to Manchester would "certainly leave a few million lost to the local economy".

He added: "They were hoping for a crowd of up to 34,000 in Thomond Park. It's unusual they are moving it - I think there were nearly 12,000 tickets sold so far, and you'd imagine there would have been a big spurt in sales in the run in to the fight, so they were definitely going to have between 20,000-30,000 people there - so it's strange they are moving it to a venue that can cater for only 21,000, with two other high profile fights on as well.

"It's a pity the whole 'virus' thing got in the way because it would have been great. I think everyone here locally was really looking forward to getting behind Andy Lee, and helping him - the way only a Thomond Park crowd does - to get a home victory.

"The Lee camp were staying for a week and a lot of them would have been physios, boxing coaches, all the guys working behind the scenes. We've 184 bedrooms in the hotel."

The Clarion Hotel, which hosts 158 bedrooms, was to provide 150 rooms for the Saunders camp, including his family and fans, fitness, coaches, and management team.

Manager, Ivan Tuohy, described the loss of the fight as "damaging" to Limerick's reputation as a top European sporting capital.

"Loosing that volume of room is going to be tough now. Most people are saying it was ticket sales that's behind it, but it's hard to tell. It's damaging to Limerick's sporting brand."

Mr Tuohy added, the Clarion had, "reduced our prices by 40% to assist in getting the fight over the line".

Read more: Lee's Thomond dream over as title fight switched to Manchester

Read more: Boxing fans disappointed as Andy Lee fight moved from home city

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