The off-season can be a source of great frustration for all supporters. With rugby not regularly adorning our lives we are forced to do normal people activities like shopping or spending time with out families.
We are either rueful over a great season finishing, or still annoyed that the last campaign went so wrong, but everyone is convinced that next year is our year. Even Dragons fans!
If there’s one thing that keeps us going over the summer, and heightens the sense of anticipation for the new season, it’s fixture release day.
Supporters can spend time pouring over where the season will be won and lost, the new season starts to become very real, we can look forward to key games, big derbies and the festive fixtures, and, most importantly for some, away trips can be planned and booked.
For in this world of professional rugby, where television companies and sponsorship deals run the roost, there is one thing that is constant; a supporters undying passion and commitment to their club. Near or far, good or bad, in all weathers, we are there in the stands or in the terraces.
However, over the last few weeks of this particular off-season it has become increasingly clear that the blazers in charge of the competitions in which Cardiff Blues enter could not care less for the supporters if they tried.
I wrote about the issues with the Pro14 when the league fixtures came out, but they’re worth repeating as part of the wider problem with the treatment of supporters.
Each year the Pro14 is the last of the three professional European leagues to release their fixtures. This is fair enough when you consider that they have the logistical issue of competing teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and South Africa to contend with, as well as some teams sharing grounds with football clubs.
There is an argument about why it should take the Pro14 over a month release it’s fixtures from the date of the Football League release, but that’s a debate to bring up another time.
The Pro14 eventually announced their fixtures on the 24th July, just 36 days before the first game of the season kicked off, with European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) who run the Heineken and Challenge Cups announcing their fixtures would be out in roughly two weeks.
Three weeks later though, and here we are, fixture-less.
This is the main crux of the argument and where the ‘c’ word comes into the equation. A word that is so alien and harmful to the ears of blazers, that they are reportedly repulsed by it’s every existence.
What is the simple answer to keeping supporters happy and reducing the amount of complaints that both the Pro14 and EPCR receive via social media? Give us a fixture release date and stick to it.
Every other professional sports league in the UK, Ireland and France is able to do it, except for the incompetent organisers of these three competitions who seem to thrive off leaving supporters in the dark and making travelling to games, both home and away in some cases, as difficult as possible.
All that we had from the Pro14 was Chief Executive Martin Anayi telling WalesOnline’s Simon Thomas in an interview that the fixtures would be out in ‘mid July’.
July 24th is the end of the July.
From the Heineken Champions Cup they were consistent in their assertions on Twitter that their fixtures would be out ‘around two weeks’ after the final announcement of Northern Hemisphere league fixtures, which was the Pro14 of course.
It will be over three weeks when EPCR finally releases their fixtures, and as we know, it will only be up until round four of the pool stage.
Even when these blazers do consider communication, what they are putting out is patently either guesswork, or straight forward lies.
Specifically for EPCR, which is a club-led organisation, the communication needs to improve quickly and efficiently, with supporters being given an exact date for fixtures early in the summer, to avoid leaving us feeling as spare parts to television companies and sponsorship deals.
Otherwise, these television companies might find that the prawn sandwich brigade are the only spectators in lifeless stadiums across Europe and into South Africa, as supports turn their back on Northern Hemisphere club rugby when the end of their already extremely long tethers are reached.
Supporters are important stakeholders, not an afterthought.