Tuesday 16 January 2018

The easy solution to IRFU ticket problem: Play here

martin breheny

Here's a question: how would you devise a package where ticket prices for the autumn rugby internationals were, on average, 30pc cheaper; some tickets would cost just €30; there was no loss of revenue to the IRFU; an additional 129,200 people got to enjoy the games; another sporting association benefited; and the Dublin economy got a boost from the increased attendances? Answer: play the games in Croke Park.

Too good to be true? Not at all. I'm no mathematical genius, -- and certainly not in the elevated class of the bankers, regulators and Department of Finance gurus who were so spectacularly good at counting that they wrecked our great country -- but some figures stack up so easily that a smart five-year-old could add them up.

So, as the IRFU copes with the reality of not being able to fill a redeveloped Lansdowne Road for its first international game (against the world champions, no less), let's skip through the figures which underline the lunacy of what passed for the planning of a sports stadium over the last decade.

The IRFU pitched average ticket prices for the games against South Africa, Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina at €85, which, with four full houses, would have yielded €17m. It will be considerably less because of the public reaction to the ticket prices.

It's safe to assume that if prices were lower the public would respond -- especially if tickets were readily available to the entire sporting community -- so let's transfer the games across the Liffey to the high-capacity Croke Park, which has hosted rugby and soccer internationals for the past three years.

Set the average stand ticket price at €65, with Hill 16 tickets at €30. Based on full houses (69,000 in the stands, 13,300 terrace), that would yield €19.5m for the four games. It averages out at €59 per ticket, €26 cheaper (roughly 30pc) than the current price.

However, the higher capacity yields over €2.5m more than Lansdowne Road could achieve, even with an €85 average price for tickets. Obviously, a fee would apply for the use of Croke Park.

It used to be around €1.25m per game, but in changed circumstances, where it's better to do some business than no business, a deal could probably be done to play the four games in Croke Park for €1.5m. That still leaves the IRFU with €1m more than they would take at Lansdowne Road.

But how would the IRFU make up their share of the €4m-per-year deal with Aviva for the naming rights if the games were in Croke Park? Assuming they share the pot with the FAI, it brings in €2m per annum, which would be made up for through the greater income from Croke Park over an entire season.

The case for playing the rugby games in Croke Park might appear to suggest that there was no need to redevelop Lansdowne Road. Not so. There is a requirement for a second, smaller stadium in Dublin, but the concept of playing all major rugby and soccer games in a 50,000 arena with ticket prices soaring to ludicrous levels, while Croke Park, with its 32,300 extra capacity, lies idle, is an especially unique brand of nonsense.


Games should be played at venues where capacity equates to realistic demand. Hence the sense in using Croke Park for the really big occasions and Lansdowne Road for smaller games, where a 50,000 capacity is adequate. The catalogue of errors surrounding the sports stadium planning was comical and reflects well on nobody.

The IRFU let Lansdowne Road deteriorate into an embarrassing wreck while they waited on the Government to decide on a national stadium, as the FAI swung in the wind, waiting to see who would bail them out.

The GAA didn't come out of it with credit either. They showed courage and vision by launching the redevelopment of Croke Park in the early 1990s, but their decision in 2001 to vote against declaring it available for rugby and soccer made no sense, either financially or from a sporting point of view.

It was out of line with the opinions of the majority of the ordinary members whose role in the changed approach four years later was hugely significant. By then, though, Government policy in relation to Lansdowne Road had been set.

So, if you have a €100 ticket for Saturday's game and you're facing a drive to Dublin, consider this: you're paying far more than you should for the ticket and if you're insured with Aviva, you're helping to fund their €4m-per-year deal for the sponsorship of Lansdowne Road, because ultimately, the customer pays for everything, including sponsorship.

And if you can't afford a ticket consider this: your taxes helped build a stadium from which you're now excluded because of admission prices.

Meanwhile, Croke Park -- a stadium which has also benefited from tax payers' contributions -- will lie idle, except for pigeons sheltering in the stands. Truly bizarre.

Irish Independent

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