Over the last three weeks the Cardiff Blues have been very keen to pack my inbox with reminders that I need to renew my season membership for next season.
As ever though, I’ve operated on an ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ ethos and sat on it so far, and as time has gone on the desire to actually sit down and sort out my membership for 2019/20 has severely waned.
Now this may seem like some sort of sour grapes after yesterday’s game, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in all honesty, but that of course it isn’t an isolated occurrence of the refereeing team having a major impact on a result.
Essentially, this blog looks at renewing my season membership as a business decision. Taking a decent portion of my hard earned money and spending it on a season long commitment, which takes a chunk of my precious spare time out of work, trekking the M4 between Llanelli and Cardiff, as well as two hours of the game itself.
Looking at the Cardiff Blues as a club and while there’s enough to like off-the-field, with good rewards for purchasing a season membership and the still steadily improving supporter engagement, there’s a lot to be desired that to a degree is out of our hands.
The lack of playing budget means that not only do we struggle to put together a playing squad with enough strength in depth to compete for the season, there’s also not the marquee players that really put bums on seats, and then get them off their seats during the game.
There’s no doubt that the commercial arm of Cardiff Blues Ltd could be performing at a much higher level and creating more income ourselves, and that is something we have to address.
However, when the Welsh Rugby Union appear to be actively preventing additional funding in the company, and are not paying a satisfactory amount for the services we provide, as well as introducing Project Reset and then showing no leadership as it hinders our ability to move forward, it’s tough to see the attraction.
Add in the fact that the league played in, the Guinness Pro14, does not generate enough money for us to be competitive in European competition, and on paper it’s not entirely obvious why I would renew my membership.
This leads me on to the Pro14 itself as a competition, the competition which I’ll see the most as a season member, and whether that is worth the financial and time outlay.
Am I enthused about getting into Cardiff town centre for a Friday or Saturday night to see us play Southern Kings, Zebre or Connacht? There’ll be few supporters present as there’s no pull for casual fans and away supporters aren’t common in the Pro14, the atmosphere will be dead and in all honesty the quality won’t be great.
Even when bigger teams like Glasgow and Leinster come to town there’s no certainty that they’ll be bringing a first team, and if we’re playing during the Six Nations then you can pretty much forget it. The league becomes an afterthought at best.
Then there’s the competency of the refereeing, or rather the lack of it. John Mulvihill is quoted as saying Greg Garner, head of Pro14 refereeing, has told him we’d have won the opening three games of the season if decisions had been correct, before more big decisions go against us away at Ulster and at Connacht yesterday.
I tweeted after the game in Galway that the league is ‘for the Irish, by the Irish’, and while it was an emotional response, it is one that has long been felt by many from outside the Emerald Isle.
I’ve held off for a long time from directly suggesting some sort of conspiracy, and in my heart of hearts I know that there is no open collusion, but ask any sports psychologist about unconscious bias and they will tell you it was real, alive and kicking.
The Irish referees, like the TMO at yesterday’s game, are paid by the IRFU. The IRFU own Connacht. The Connacht players and coaches are paid by the IRFU. Therefore, the TMO is paid by people who have a direct interest in the result of the game they are helping officiate.
This brings the credibility of the league into serious question, and at the very least there is a continued and serious issue with the competency of the officials that does not seem as if it will be rectified any time soon.
So, to summarise, I’m being asked to renew my season membership of a rugby club that is poorly funded and struggles to be competitive in a league that is often mundane and has serious questions asked of it’s integrity.
I probably won’t be thanked for this blog by those in the management at the Cardiff Blues, but these are the stark facts facing anybody who is a potential season member at the Arms Park, and until we get real and start addressing them, nothing will get better.
For me, well I’m bloody stuck with this club now so I’ll end up doing what I always do and renewing on the last day of the early bird offer to get the cheapest ticket, before immediately regretting it.
Maybe one day those of us who are so blindly loyal will vote with our feet too though. Is that what it will take to wake the blazers up?