With the release of the European fixtures last week, along with the confirmation of the Challenge Cup format, supporters can now properly map out the 2021/22 campaign.
The fact that we have only reached this point just two weeks before the season starts is quite frankly embarrassing for a professional sport that, as we have seen over the last year, relies so heavily on the financial and vocal support of supporters on terraces and in stands. European fixtures are not even fully confirmed yet, but all that’s another issue.
Instead I want to focus on what the season structure means for us as Cardiff supporters and whether we are getting value for money from our season tickets. They are tickets which cost, for the vast majority of supporters, a considerable sum of money, especially when there are usually at least two season tickets per family.
To do this I want to rewind to the 2018/19 season, the last full campaign before the coronavirus pandemic struck. During that season if an adult wanted to stand on the South Terrace, without Cardiff Athletic Club membership, they would have to pay £205.
In that season we were playing in the Guinness Pro14 where the format offered either 10 or 11 home games on alternate years. That particular campaign, Cardiff played 10 home games. We were also playing in the Heineken Champions Cup which still operated on pools of four where teams played each other home and away for three further home games.
Add in a home pre-season friendly, and that adult on the South Terrace was seeing 14 guaranteed home games, meaning they paid £14.60 per game.
Fast forward to this season and for an adult to stand on the South Terrace without paying Cardiff Athletic Club membership, it is £10 more at £215.
However, the United Rugby Championship now only offers nine home games during the course of a season, and a new format for the Heineken Champions Cup can only offer two home games with no guaranteed route to a round of 16 clash.
With the pre-season friendly still in place it means there are 12 home games on offer with the season ticket, which results in that adult paying £17.90 per game to watch the first team.
What’s the answer to this? Well the club could cut season ticket prices, but it’s a fair statement in my mind to say that the revenue lost in cutting prices would not be made up by more season tickets being sold. Therefore it’s not a viable business decision to make a cut, no matter how right it may appear in terms of doing right by supporters.
The league and European competitions could increase the guaranteed home games of each team, but the reason behind certainly the URC cutting games was a response to supporters feedback that there were too many games taking place during international windows, and star players were missing too often. Cutting games hasn’t actually solved the second of those issues, but again that’s another issue.
In the end it all comes back to the structure of professional rugby union, and the simple fact that too much emphasis is placed on international rugby as the sport’s financial driver, rather than trying to build up the club game to reach it’s huge but untapped potential.
The amount of revenue that the international game can produce appears to me to have either reached a zenith or is very close to that. Joint TV deals, World Nations Championships, and World Cups every two years are all simply quick fix ideas that may result in a short-term boost but that fail to address the issue that professional rugby union is stalling.
From where I’m sat the game needs to reach a realisation that there is too much international rugby and to give the club game a fair opportunity to grow, otherwise season tickets will continue to lose value, supporters will vote with their feet and the professional aspect of the sport will die from the bottom up as the club game dwindles and the international game follows suit.
Once international windows are reduced from three to two it will allow club competitions to re-align and give supporters that value for money that we deserve for our week-in, week-out commitment to our teams.