One of the main talking points from this weekend’s European Champions Cup semi finals was the low attendances at both the games. Although it was reported that each of the 3 English teams had sold out their allocation, large numbers of tickets on general sale went unsold.
A number of theories were put forward as to why the 2 games, Saracens-Wasps and Leicester-Racing Metro, had such poor attendances, which prompted us to delve a bit deeper in to the figures and look at the historical gates over the last 10 seasons of the tournament.
What’s the overall trend?
If we add the attendance figures for each of the semi finals and plot this for each year, we get the following graph:
The data shows this year’s semi final gates were the lowest for the period we are looking at – in fact it was reported this was the lowest total for 15 years.
Are the English to blame?
This year’s semi finals were both hosted in England; this has happened on two previous occasions – in the 2007 and 2008 tournaments.
If we look back at the graph above we can see the 2nd lowest total attendance was in 2007 while 2008 is the 4th lowest. The fact that 3 of the 4 lowest total gates occurred when both games were hosted in England tells a fairly stark story.
If we now look at the same graph but show where both semi finals were hosted in England, where one game hosted in England and which were both hosted outside England we get the following chart.
Black = both hosted in England
Blue = no game hosted in England
Orange = one game hosted in England
Of the 5 years with the highest attendances, only one had a game hosted in England. This was 2011 when Northampton hosted Perpignan against a back drop of a paltry 18,231 whereas over 50,000 made the journey to Dublin to watch Leinster take on Toulouse.
The data confirms the view that English hosted semi finals are generally not well attended events. If you want to guarantee a big crowd host the game in Ireland or France.
Specifically, can we blame Saracens?
Although English hosted semi finals aren’t well attended can we attribute this to any one team?
The average attendances for each English team where they host the semi finals are as follows:
London Irish – 30,559
Saracens – 24,667
Leicester – 26,134
Northampton – 18,365
So, it’s not just Saracens who have a poor average gate when they host a semi final, all 4 English teams have struggled to attract high gates for their “home” fixtures.
Perhaps these teams are limited by the capacity of the stadiums they use? These are the % of the capacity that was filled during their respective “home” semi finals:
London Irish – 37%
Saracens – 70%, 32%, 31%, 93%
Leicester – 72%, 93%
Northampton – 60%, 57%
Not one game could be classed as sold out. These compare poorly against several of the French and Irish fixtures where games were not just sold out, they were often held in stadia with large capacities.
Why do the English teams struggle?
This is the hard bit to answer. We know that a number of these English teams manage to attract large gates for one off games held at Wembley or Twickenham, so why do they struggle with these fixtures, that should be more attractive than a one off Aviva fixture?
The answer may be that the English teams have a strong core of supporters but struggle to attract the more casual fan unless they have the time to market a game and choose a ticket price point that makes the fixture attractive.
This seems logical, but a number of French teams also have large one off gates for big games but they also seem to be able to attract people to watch European semi finals – over and above their core support.
There are perhaps a number of other reasons why English gates are lower – competition with football, nomadic nature of some of the English teams….. but we would like to hear your thoughts on this phenomena.
Full semi final details are shown below.
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Note: the 2014 semi final between Toulon and Munster at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille was being redeveloped at the time, with a restricted capacity of 41,000.