Oval Talk

Paying the price for expensive tickets

Oval Talk

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53,127 attended Wales v Australia - which left 20,998 empty seats at the Millennium Stadium. The same game drew a capacity crowd last year.

For Ireland, the news was worse still - 35,157 fans saw their side push South Africa to the wire - meaning 14,843 rather lonely plastic chairs. To put it another way, almost a third of the ground went unfilled for Ireland's first rugby match at Lansdowne Road (or the Aviva Stadium) since 2006.

In countries where football does not relegate rugby to an afterthought, these are alarming numbers - but perhaps no great surprise.

Tickets cost too much money.

In Ireland, a ludicrous system of ticketing meant that to watch South Africa you also had to buy a ticket for this week's Samoa clash, meaning a minimum outlay of €150 (£130) per person.

After the game at the Millennium Stadium, Wales wing Shane Williams summed up the issue succinctly:

"It's not a surprise the game was not a sell-out. I know how difficult it is out there. Sixty-five pounds could be seen as a lot of money in this climate."

Shane, you might just be on to something.

Of course organisers will look to make as much of a profit on these Tests as possible. The reasons are obvious, and OT can swallow its misty-eyed optimism and accept them, so long as they do not bring about empty seats.

The chance to see your nation at home is still relatively limited in rugby union - of the home nations Wales will play in Cardiff eight times this year, Scotland at Murrayfield five times, and the rest something in between.

More games than were on the calendar a decade ago, but not the saturation point that, say, English cricket administrators reached and then swept beyond this year with our summer sport.

The decision of fans to eschew the atmosphere of being at the game is understandable, too. With prices high and belts tightened, why not catch the game at home?

The quality of television coverage, through high definition, more cameras and immaculate slow motion replays, is going up at a ferocious pace. The only thing going up at the grounds, meanwhile, is the prices.

The small screen might be the more lucrative concern for rugby bosses but for their product to work they need full houses at the grounds.

There's a strange relationship between supporters watching on television and supporters watching at the stadium. We need to see people on our screens caught up in the moment, shouting, chanting, faces painted, for the match to have atmosphere. It's an illusion - and an important one - if it looks as if nobody cares to go, then maybe it's time to change the channel.

So in everyone's interest, be it for fans, for unions, for children wanting to be Brian O'Driscoll and, yes, even for Oval Talk somewhere at the back of the queue - let's get the ticket prices right.

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Another autumn international week and another set of northern hemisphere defeats.

Oval Talk could happily scribble down a few hundred words about the performances of England, Wales and Ireland at the weekend, but you would probably be able to guess the tone.

The Tri-Nations teams remain a cut above other opposition, and despite all three home sides showing plenty of heart in their second halves they fell short by 10 points, nine points and the width of a post respectively.

It's another problem for the unions. Nobody likes seeing their team spend autumn losing.

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Quote of the week: "I am encouraged and frustrated. We did lots of good things but for two weeks we talked about starting well and we were not on the pace from the start. What cost us in the end was an inability to start at the same pace and tempo they did." Martin Johnson speaks after the New Zealand defeat, but it might as well have been any time since he took over the role of England coach.

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