As the Irish Rugby season is well underway with the return of the PRO14 and the AIL, the focus and excitement now shifts to the Autumn Internationals next month. Ireland kicks things off against Italy in Soldier Field, Chicago on Saturday November 3 – the same venue where Ireland famously beat New Zealand 40-29 for their first ever win over the All Blacks in 111 years. The match against Italy is part of a triple-header of games that day in an effort to grow the game in the US. Ireland will then host Argentina in the Aviva on the November 10, followed by New Zealand on the 17th, and, to round out the series, Ireland play the USA on the 24th.
“Ahead of this series, the issue of rising ticket prices has been more of a talking point than perhaps it should be.”
The highlight of the Autumn Series this year is without a doubt the blockbuster fixture against New Zealand, as the top two teams in the world go head-to-head a year out from the Rugby World Cup. Ireland will have the chance to reach the summit in the world rankings for the first time ever with a win against the All Blacks, provided that other results go their way. Ireland have played New Zealand twice at home over the last five years, with the match in 2013 ending in heartbreak. Ireland rushed to an early lead and piled on the points only to be beaten in the 82nd minute by a converted try as New Zealand completed one of the biggest comebacks in rugby history. That tight victory capped off a perfect, unbeaten year for the All Blacks.
Ahead of this series, the issue of rising ticket prices has been more of a talking point than perhaps it should be, as Premium tickets to the Ireland vs New Zealand match were being sold for up to a staggering €135, a €40 increase from when Ireland last played New Zealand in 2016. By comparison, Premium tickets to see Ireland against Wales in the Aviva during the Six Nations this year only reached €90. Ireland don’t play New Zealand often, and when they do, it is the most sought-after ticket in the country. One can understand why the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) would try and capitalise as much as possible on this by raising the ticket prices to extortionate levels.
“The fact that the general public didn’t get an allocation of tickets makes it near impossible for people who aren’t involved in the game to go to these matches.”
This rise is still slightly worrying from a fan’s perspective, who may feel less inclined to go to a game if the prices are so high. With rugby being Ireland’s fourth-choice sport behind hurling, Gaelic football and soccer, the IRFU must keep rugby accessible to everyone by not pricing people out of going to games in order to keep growing the sport. Placing prohibitively high price tags on crucial international only serves to stimulate the exclusivity of rugby. After the IRFU put in so much hard work to appeal to the masses, it would be a great pity for the game to regain its elitist status simply because the sporting body wants to earn a quick profit.
Another issue with the tickets to the Ireland vs New Zealand game this November is that there were no tickets on sale for the general public, causing outrage. The IRFU had sold all of the tickets through schools, rugby clubs, and the Supporters Club after the sponsorship tickets had been allocated. The fact that the general public didn’t get an allocation of tickets makes it near impossible for people who aren’t involved in the game to go to these matches. This won’t help the growth of the game across the country if the people on the fence don’t get a chance to experience it first-hand.
In recent years, the RFU, England’s rugby governing body, have also been criticised for their increased ticket prices, especially for games between England and New Zealand. Matches against New Zealand are always the standout clash on any team’s calendar and are a guaranteed sellout. England host New Zealand on November 10, a week before the Ireland game, and the RFU are charging up to £195 (€220) for their version of Premium level which is around €85 more expensive than the most expensive ticket for Ireland vs New Zealand.
” If Ireland plays well and wins games, the demand for tickets will rise.”
The IRFU have always struggled to compete with the bigger rugby nations when it comes to players’ salaries. There is a massive scramble to keep talent in Ireland, as foreign clubs have been pumped with cash over the past decade. Clubs like RC Toulon have bought their way to the top as they poach top players from other leagues with lucrative contract deals. With players’ salaries increasing rapidly over the last few years, especially in France and England, a couple of high profile Irish players have gone to ply their trade elsewhere as they were simply offered more than what they were being paid in Ireland.
Players such as Jonathan Sexton, Ian Madigan, Donnacha Ryan, and Paul O’Connell have gone abroad after being offered big money contracts. One of the reasons perhaps for the rising ticket prices is to pay to keep our players in the Irish system and to compensate them to the point where it wouldn’t be worth their while to go abroad. The IRFU has responded by topping up a lot of the star Irish players’ salaries over the last three years in an effort to keep them until after the World Cup in 2019.
It seems that ticket prices will continue to rise over the coming years – if Ireland plays well and wins games, the demand for tickets will rise. Irish rugby is perhaps in the best state it has ever been in with Ireland winning the Grand Slam and Leinster winning the Pro 14 and the Champions Cup. Ireland have great squad depth which is testament to the IRFU and their focus on grassroots rugby, as the majority of these players have come up through the provincial and national system. But one feels that the best is still to come – the IRFU has to try and keep rugby accessible to everyone and not charge the public an arm and a leg to go and see the national team play.