The season of goodwill and Welsh derbies is over, and over 43,000 people have watched rugby in four games during the period. In Cardiff we saw our first sell-out since January 2014 when we welcomed Llanelli to the Arms Park, meanwhile there were also sell-outs at Parc y Scarlets and Rodney Parade, with a slightly disappointing crowd at the Liberty Stadium the only blip on the record.
Cardiff 29-27 Llanelli: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/cardiff-29-27-llanelli/
Obviously there’s been big news about the attendances and how they can be maintained. There’s also been plenty mentioned about the exciting rugby played and the entertainment offered by the matches, again with the exception of the Ospreys game at home on New Year’s Day. On a side note, the Swansea boys do have the best average attendance and core of supporters so there’s not too much of a problem not massively boosting their crowds over Christmas.
Anyway, what nobody in the media has mentioned is the impact that a) away fans, and b) local rivals have on attendances. I mean Cardiff v Llanelli was a terrifically entertaining game of rugby with some high quality on show at times, but no matter how exciting or high quality the game is, there’ll still be under 6,000 fans around for Zebre at home, for example, because there’ll be no away fans and there’s no rivalry. Even for teams like Leinster or Munster, huge clubs with long histories, I don’t feel any rivalry or anything towards them. They’ll bring a few away fans but not enough to boost a crowd, plus they’ll likely bring a very second string side.
2015/16 Festive Derby Attendances
Llanelli v Ospreys: 14,568 – Newport v Cardiff: 8,226 – Ospreys v Newport: 9,247 – Cardiff v Llanelli: 11,270 (Total – 43,761)
Previous Pro12 Game Attendances
Cardiff v Connacht: 5,824 – Ospreys v Zebre*: 7,236 – Newport v Munster: 5,579 – Llanelli v Zebre: 5,504 (Total – 24,143)
*Ospreys last home game was v Cardiff but examples are against non-Welsh teams for comparison.
So what to do about it? Well my dream would be to see an Anglo-Welsh league. With the Wales professional teams playing just over the border I think there’d be a massive boost for rugby in general in the country, but specifically club rugby. Better Aviva Premiership TV deals would bring in more money, plus extra expsoure equals extra sponsorship as well as the ability to attract better players while playing in a better league. Obviously Wales internationals would be less tempted to leave the clubs for abroad and less travelling for all the players is a plus.
In terms of off-the-field benefits, there’s plenty of reason to believe attendances would increase. Bath, Gloucester, Worcester and even Exeter are close to South Wales, with Bristol almost certain to join the Premiership at some point as well. There’s the old English rivalry which would increase the profile of the games for home fans, as well as the sides named bringing a number of away fans. Even further afield teams like Leicester, Harlequins and Wasps have large fan bases. There’d be increased ticket sales creating more money and interest in the professional club game.
Of course I am aware that an Anglo-Welsh league is unlikely to happen any time soon. The Welsh Rugby Union and Pro Rugby Wales are tied into the Rugby Services Agreement, so they’ll be unlikely to leave without WRU approval. Aside from that, I’m not really sure the English sides want us, and they certainly don’t need us.
The Pro12 though is surely going to have to change soon. The Irish teams still see it as a second string competition, while the Italian teams are just not good enough and seem to be close to leaving each season. The Welsh sides meanwhile fall further behind their Irish and Scottish counterparts in the league, and further behind the wider European competitors in EPCR competitions.
Big changes are hopefully coming soon and I hope the recent festive period can be the catalyst for that with entertaining rugby being played out in front of bumper crowds. Let’s just hope the powers that be learn the right lessons from Christmas 2015.