Sport Rugby

Saturday 20 January 2018

Clubs see through IRFU's restricted view of ticket mess

Putting bums on seats for international fixtures at the revamped Lansdowne Road remains a disaster, writes Brendan Fanning

W e don't know if somebody in the Leinster Branch office was being clever, or if it was just one of those unintentional but beautiful juxtapositions -- ie the location of the ticket booth in the RDS last night, selling unwanted seats for Ireland's November internationals. It could be found "behind the Anglesea Stand and beside the House of Horrors". Indeed.

There will be a meeting tomorrow morning in the IRFU to discuss the horror show that is the marketing of seats to see the Ireland rugby team in their new home. And that's what it is -- a marketing fiasco. If your basic understanding of marketing is that it's about creating and packaging and delivering at the right price something someone wants to buy, then truly the rebirth of Lansdowne Road has gone horribly wrong.

Up until now we thought we were dealing simply with over-priced tickets in a stadium where, incredibly, all bar the premium seats were pitched at the same level. Now it emerges that there is a new class of seat there. Introducing -- "the restricted view" perch.

We have a clear memory of being on the lower deck of the old Cusack Stand in Croke Park many years ago and marvelling at the positioning of some seats directly behind a cement stanchion so broad that it made for a Berlin Wall vibe. You hoped those seats weren't ever sold, that some sunny Sunday a couple didn't fetch up from the country on All-Ireland final day only to discover that they couldn't see the pitch.

So how, in a brand spanking new stadium like the Aviva, can there be seats with a restricted view? We know they exist because the IRFU are advertising them on their website as such. Better still, you can buy these seats for half the cost than if you had gone through your club.

First, the seats themselves. Seemingly, there are problems around the camera positions for TMOs (technical match officials -- or video refs as they are known) and there is a problem too around the dugouts given the level of activity there. There are also issues in the north west and south west points in the ground caused by the overhang of the steel super structure. None of these comes across as something that couldn't have been thought of at the design stage.

The only 'extra' if you like is that the stadium is bigger than originally envisaged. It is actually 51,700 rather than the 50,000 we all expected. Evidently, some of the seats shoehorned into the ground do not afford what one might call an appealing vista.

The IRFU would have known about these when the stadium plan was handed over to them. It was up to them -- and the FAI -- to decide what to do with seats which were restricted in their view. An IRFU spokesman on Friday put that figure at 700. That's a lot of restrictions.

So what did they do? They whacked them out to the clubs for top-dollar prices, that's what. They didn't say: 'here are some crap seats which you can knock out at a discount price'; they just said: 'here are some crap seats and if you don't sell them then we'll cut your allocation when it comes round to the Six Nations'. In fact permanently, as was made clear to the clubs two weeks ago. Now a whole heap of tickets are tumbling out of the skies over Lansdowne Road. Last Friday morning, a group of Munster club delegates met with the Munster Branch and told them to expect returns in the order of 50 per cent.

And they weren't keen on listening to the notion of having future allocations cut. Consider the clubs' position: they backbone the game in this country, providing the players for amateur and ultimately professional ranks, and they send forward through their branches volunteers to sit on the union committees, volunteers, some of whom morph into something different once they get the feel of the blazer on their backs.

Traditionally they have also sold the tickets through their memberships on behalf of the IRFU. Now, in the brave new world, the clubs have

been given tickets at top whack in the teeth of a recession, told to bundle them in unsaleable packages, and, best of all, undercut by the IRFU with their own website sales to the general public.

The headline is that the stadium debt must be cleared asap; the subtext is that the professional age demands ticket distribution through professional channels -- like Ticketmaster.

Does this make sense? Maybe it does if you're an accountant. But if you want to maintain a supply line of players for your game, and you think it important to recognise the loyalty that has contributed so much to Irish rugby being where it is today, then you'll remember where you came from in the first place. Otherwise you put everything online and plough ahead until the results go south, whereupon the floating fan ties up his entertainment dollar somewhere else. At which point you have arrived at the House of Horrors.

Sunday Independent

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