Just one of Wales’ autumn international games sold out this year at the Millennium Stadium. Not even the world champions South Africa could draw in the punters.
By Sam Shead
The first match against Australia had 20,000 spare seats, which is one of the lowest recorded attendances since the stadium was built. The game against the current world champions, South Africa, sold slightly more with 54,000, whilst Fiji sold 55,000.
After the disappointing turnout for the first game, the Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis said that it was the medium price range of tickets (costing around £40) that failed to sell.
He was also keen to stress that this was not the first time the stadium had failed to sell out. In 2009, Argentina and Samoa sold 53,000 and 58,000 tickets respectively, whilst a World Cup warm-up game against France in 2007 saw only 48,000 tickets sold.
Eddie Butler, former Welsh international and British Lions rugby player, said: “One seasonal blip in a volatile economic climate does not suggest rugby meltdown and the Six Nations is traditionally a stronger lure for the paying customer.
“Having said that, the [Six nations] game against Italy doesn’t automatically mean a full stadium and it would be deeply worrying if it became the norm not to have a maximum crowd.
“The support of the Welsh rugby public is more influential in defining the fortunes of the national team than in any other country. Fanaticism in a small country is essential to maintain rugby’s high profile and foster the ambitions of young players.”
The WRU have said they are taking steps to try and secure more ticket sales for future games, including the introduction of family tickets priced from £70 and a number of training sessions where the public can watch for free.
Cardiff Blues said: “We have tried to increase our crowds with a number of ticket offers. For example, in the recent Exeter game, we offered family tickets for two adults and two children priced at £12 per adult and £1 per child.”
Many are arguing the games are being played too often and too frequently. Welsh rugby fan Alex Pimm from Newport said: “Playing Australia, New Zealand and South Africa used to be an occasion. Playing them year in year out is not such an occasion, hence the decline in attendance.”
The next big challenge for those that set the ticket prices at the WRU will not necessarily be the Six Nations or the 2012 autumn internationals. It will be the the four World Cup warm-up games in the summer next year that will see Wales play the Barbarians and Argentina with two games against England in between.
Welsh Rugby Coach, Warren Gatland, said last week: “The Welsh support is very important to us as a squad and I am extremely pleased the WRU has devised this excellent ticket policy to encourage as many fans as possible to watch the games.”
The WRU’s new ticket prices allow Under 18’s to purchase tickets for the matches from as little as £15 – the same price as the tickets for the recent autumn international fixture against Fiji.
For families there are special packages with special two adult and two U18 packages at just £70 for Argentina, £100 for the Barbarians and £110 for England.
Mr Lewis expects the ticket situation to improve considerably by the time the 2012 autumn series comes around.
Ireland and Scotland have also struggled this year to sell tickets in their autumn matches against the same teams.