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Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of when Wales ruled and England were perennial whipping boys, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo

Fans lose out over ticket fiasco
Martin Williamson
April 30, 2014
Saracens played their Heineken Cup semi-final in front of a small crowd by Twickenham's standards © Getty Images

The last week has not shown up the decision making abilities of some of those running rugby in the best light. On Saturday what should have been an intense Heineken Cup semi-final was played out in front of a two-thirds empty stadium. Now we learn that European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of the Amlin Challenge Cup, have organised the final of that tournament at a venue small enough to ensure it will sell out, only that few of those present will be regular supporters of Bath or Northampton, the clubs involved.

In fairness, the problem facing organisers is that, unlike football, rugby's core support is relatively small. However, as club matches at Twickenham and Wembley have shown, marketed well there is a large casual following that rugby appeals to. What is lacking is a readily available ground with a capacity in the 25,000-40,000 range in that area.

Having said that, it was obvious Twickenham would not come close to selling out last weekend. That did not stop the RFU putting money before common sense and insisting the game be played there, nor ERC meekly agreeing to it. The resulting banks of empty seats left those at the ground a little flat and those at home wondering if this was one of the showcase club matches of the year.

Turning to the Amlin Cup, the organisers seem to have buried their heads in the sand and not bothered to have a back-up option. To play the match at Twickenham or the Millennium Stadium would have been daft. To schedule it for the 12,000-capacity Cardiff Arms Park is just as silly. Common sense would have suggested Cardiff City Stadium or some such venue, with a 25,000+ capacity, would be ideal and likely to come close to selling out.

But common sense and administrators too often do not go hand in hand.

When the distortion of the occasional big-venue one-offs are discounted, attendances at club rugby have declined in the last five years. Those at the top of the game should be doing all they can to try to keep loyal fans interested and to lure in - or back - those less committed.

Instead, Bath and Northampton will be allocated only 1000 tickets each for the Amlin Cup final, ensuring that most of those who follow those clubs regularly will miss out or have to resort to paying over the odds to an online profiteer.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media

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