Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RWC 2015: World Cup Ticket Sales Indicate Welsh Allocation Mistake

Rugby World Cup 2015 is to be England's third time hosting World Cup matches. The tradition of concentrating home matches at Twickenham is in common to that of Wales at the Millnnium Stadium, Scotland at Murrayfield and Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. This factor combined with rugby lacking a nationwide spread in all four nations contributed heavily to the disorganization of Rugby World Cups 1991 and 1999 which featured all four, in addition to France, hosting matches. 2007, for other reasons, saw Wales and Scotland hosting for a third time while Wales will do so for a fourth in 2015. The ability of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to secure fixtures every eight years is questionable considering many matches not being full and this trend appears set to continue in 2015. 

The ethical decision to have Wales hosting matches during England's Rugby World Cup is one that many have questioned and done so with vigor. The reasoning behind this has been two-fold. Firstly,  it takes away from the prestige of the event to have it shared and secondly, Wales has hosted matches every eight years, managing to secure matches in 1991 and 2007 in addition to being the official host in 1999. 

From the beginning negative comments have been all too common towards the decision to allow Cardiff to be allocated matches and the IRB, now rebranded as World Rugby, was openly opposed to any match not being played outside of England. The Welsh capital was nonetheless able to secure eight matches making it the second most important city in the tournament while northern half of England received just six matches spread across three cities.

I covered the reasons for Cardiff being able to host during England's Rugby World Cup in detail in a published book which can be seen here. The combination of Welsh rugby being able to seize the opportunity and having the power to do so in conjunction with England having promised a record breaking World Cup saw the Millennium Stadium  becoming central to England 2015.

The extent of the controversy ignored Wales' inability to sell-out the Millennium Stadium in previous Rugby World Cups with 2007 having been telling. Over half of the tickets for Wales v Japan were unsold as a crowd of 35,245 attended the fixture while there were 34,000 spectators at Fiji v Canada (pictured above).

It was far from being a total disaster however as marque matches featuring two Tier One nations were huge commercial successes. 72,000 attended the Wales v Australia pool fixture while 71,669 spectators saw France eliminate the All Blacks. The contract follows a pattern of Welsh home matches in which there is a far greater demand for Welsh home tests against leading nations than is the case against Tier Two sides for instance.

In November 2013 crowds of 46,523 and 46,253 witnessed Wales defeating Tonga and Argentina compared to crowds of 67,436 and 66,490 for Australia and South Africa. The home test v New Zealand attracted 72,372 in November 2012 compared to 58,000 v Samoa that same month. 61,326 were on hand for the recent test v Fiji, a larger number than the 55,004 who attended Wales v Australia the week prior.

Prices for tests v the Islanders are notably lower than the other tests yet the public was not packing the Millennium Stadium for such matches in the lead up to it being allocated eight matches for Rugby World Cup 2015. This has continued until this day as evidenced by home matches this month. Aside from the fixture v the All Blacks this past weekend the crowds have been noteworthy for failing to attract interest from the fans, even with reduced prices for the Fijian test.

Fiji is one of two teams that Wales will face at the Millennium Stadium during Rugby World Cup 2015, the other is Uruguay. Tens of thousands of tickets remain for both matches and this is common across the fixtures allocated to the Welsh capital. None of the eight matches managed to sell out in the initial phases of ticket sales despite tickets being in very high demand in most other cities.

All tickets for all matches in Brighton, Exeter, Gloucester and Manchester sold out in the initial phase. Other matches to have sold out include New Zealand v Argentina at Wembley and South Africa v USA and Ireland v Italy both of which are at the Olympic Stadium. Australia v Uruguay at Birmingham and Scotland v South Africa in Newcastle both also sold out as did all of England's matches.

Demand in a number of non-rugby cities have therefore out-strippen supply while in the rugby heartland that is Cardiff the opposite is true. Both Quarter Finals are finding it harder than Twickenham to sell play-offs matches. The possible Pool D decider between France and Ireland has also had problems.

Less-marketable matches run the risk of being a repeat of Wales v Japan and Fiji v Canada from 2007. Instances include Australia v Fiji, New Zealand v Georgia, Ireland v Canada and Wales' two matches v Fiji and Uruguay. Indeed of the total number of 300,000 unsold from the earlier phases many tickets are for these very matches in Cardiff.

After England and Wales host next year's Rugby World Cup attention will turn to Japan, the host nation of Rugby World Cup 2019. Japan's winning bid had carried with it the possibility of utilizing either or both of Hong Kong and Singapore as sub-hosts. This, however, is not going to eventuate as neither city-state appeared in the short-listed options which promise a Japan-only World Cup.

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