Monday, July 14, 2014

European Rugby: Top Attendances Per League and Club

The 2013-2014 European club season was comparable to the 2012-2013 season in terms of inter-league battles. The Heineken Cup champion in both years was Toulon which saw France become the most successful country in the history of the competition with a total of seven titles split between Brive, Toulon and Toulouse. Both the Aviva Premiership and Rabo Direct Pro 12 competitions won the competition six times with all of the Rabo Direct Pro 12 champions being Irish. Ireland also, overall, enjoys larger crowds than other Pro 12 participants  

Opinion is mixed across the board as to which of the three European professional leagues is the best. For supporters of one of the three member countries obvious preferences exist while for supporters of other countries preference very often comes down to which league has more players from ones home country. U.S. supporters, for instance, have less reason than Canadians to focus on the Rabo Direct Pro 12 while Georgians have more reason to follow the Top 14 than the Aviva Premiership. For neutrals, however, other criteria come into play as fans seek to be entertained. 

No method exists that can be used to conclude which, if any, of the leagues is the best. Ultimately it comes down to what it is that the individual is seeking. For many it is high scoring matches packed with tries while for others close matches, high scoring or not, are ideal. With Super Rugby tending to be of the earlier variety there are regular criticisms over the professional leagues played in western and central Europe. 

Reaching a conclusion as to which league is the best is therefore a subjective rather than an objective process. This does not, however, mean that methods of comparing the leagues cannot be made. Based on attendance numbers the resulting differences between leagues and from within the leagues themselves is noteworthy.

In the 2013-2014 season the three competitions operated at the same time but under differing models. With both having twelve teams facing each other home and away followed by Semi Finals and a Final the Aviva Premiership and Pro 12 each had a total of 135 matches. France's club season is longer with it containing fourteen teams and having an additional play-offs round known as the barrage. In total the Top 14 had 187 matches this past season. 

The French league therefore had 52 more matches than that of either the English or the Celtic-Italian leagues. With more matches being played the Top 14 therefore recorded a higher overall attendance figure than the two others but it also led the way in terms of average attendances per match with 13,538. It represented a 3% rise from the previous season. 

The figures corresponded to Top 14 matches having on average 784 more people than those at Aviva Premiership matches and 5,333 more than the average sized crowd in the Rabo Direct Pro 12.  The average attendance recorded in England was actually smaller than the 13,364 spectators per match in the 2009-2010 season when ten matches were played at Twickenham.

Average Attendance
Aviva Premiership
Rabo Direct Pro 12
Top 14

In terms of the Semi Finals attendances the Top 14 is quite clearly a far more successful product than the two other leagues. Crowds of 48,942 and 49,257 attended the matched played in the neutral city of Lille. Neither the Aviva Premiership nor the Rabo Direct Pro 12 utilizes neutral venues for the Semi Finals. The matches are instead played at the regular home venues of the Semi Finalists. 

The policy is an ongoing aspect of the LNR. Semi Finals in previous seasons have been played in a variety of cities including and Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseilles, Montpellier, Nantes, St. Etienne and Toulouse. Venues used for international rugby including Rugby World Cup 2007. The lesson is that by planning ahead it is possible to have soccer cities flying rugby colors which helps the sport tremendously.

By hosting Semi Finals at the homes of the Northampton Saints and Saracens the Aviva Premiership had smaller attendances not only than those in Lille but was also lower overall than the combined total of people attending the Rabo Direct Pro 12 Semi Finals in Glasgow and Dublin. A crowd of 10,000 saw the Glasgow Warriors eliminate Munster and 18,246 were on hand for Leinster v Ulster. 13,491 people saw Northampton defeat Leicester while 9,961 were on hand to see Saracens eliminate Harlequins in a Greater London showdown.

Semi Final 1
Semi Final 2
Aviva Premiership
Rabo Direct Pro 12
Top 14

The finals of both the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 are played at the same venues every year - Twickenham and the Stade de France. As such tickets are available well in advance and attendances are strong. With the Rabo Direct Pro  12 being a four nation competition the venue for the final is not determined until the completion of the Semi Finals with the top ranked Semi Final winner gaining home advantage. For this reason the much smaller RDS Stadium in Dublin hosted the 2014 Pro 12 final attracting 19,200 people compared to 79,193 in London and 80,174 in Paris.

Aviva Premiership
Rabo Direct Pro 12
Top 14

Despite having a much lower overall attendance record compared to the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 the attendances recorded in Ireland are actually very strong with three of the four Irish provinces having had strong overall attendances. In the four seasons of Italian involvement Irish teams have dominated on the field and off it winning three finals and having Leinster, Munster and Ulster all compete in finals.

The Welsh crisis again prevented the four regions from receiving anything comparable to the popularity that the national team enjoys while Scotland and Italy continue to have low support. So much so that in the 2012-2013 season Connacht had higher attendances than both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The strongest crowds were all Irish with Leinster averaging 19,791 per game, Munster 14,137 and Ulster 10,307. For the same season the Ospreys had 9,291 and the Cardiff Blues 8,933.

Such crowd sizes make these three Irish provinces amongst the best supported in Europe. Indeed all of the London Irish, London Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks, Saracens and Worcester Warriors had lower attendances in 2013-2014 than in the 2012-2013 season. Attendances for Wasps' fixtures dropped by 32.58%  from 8,542 at Adams Park in 2009-2010 to 5,759 this past season.

The lowest attended club in France was Castres with 8,445 per match, or 2,686 more than the Wasps who , overall, did better than Bath, Exeter, Worcester, Sale and Newcastle due to the use of Twickenham. The Wasps' total attendance figure of 153,691 equated to an average of 13,971 per match. Newcastle recorded the lowest with an average attendance of 5,135 per match.

The Leicester Tigers continued to be the most popular European club with an average attendance of 20,948 out of a total of 251,377  in the Aviva Premiership. The Harlequins received 18,842 per match and Saracens as third with 14,970. Champions the Northampton Saints averaged 13,125 per match a figure similar to the sixth best in France, Bayonne.

With a total attendance of 181,498 across thirteen home matches Bayonne had an average of 13,961 per match. The strongest attendances were recorded by Bordeaux-Begles at an average of 19,545 per match. It is likely to overtake Leicester next season as ten out of thirteen matches will be at the Stade Chaban Delmas. Champions Toulon attracted 18,588 per match, Stade Français was third with 17,037, Clermont fourth with 17,074 per match while Toulouse rounded out the top five with 16,355 people attending home matches on average.

The larger attendances recorded in France overall during the regular season are therefore consistent with France having the highest number of teams in the list of the top ten supported clubs in Europe. Of the top ten five are French, three are English and two are Irish.

Top Ten Supported Clubs
Leicester Tigers
Bordeaux Begles
Clermont Auvergne
Stade Français

1 comment:

  1. To increase attendance at the Pro12 playoffs, I would change the format. The two top Irish teams would play a semifinal at Aviva Stadium, and the two top non-Irish teams at Murrayfield and Millenium stadiums on alternating years. The final would be played at the main stadium of the country of the regular season leader.