MUNSTER’s morale boosting win over Harlequins last Sunday could not have come at a better time, both for team and supporter alike.
Munster Rugby, currently in the throes of negotiating new sponsorship deals and examining its bottom line, can expect a major boost from qualification for the semi-final stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 2010.
For fans, the emphatic - and largely unexpected - victory over the English champions means crowing rights over provincial rivals who stumbled at the group or knock-out stages, ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Leinster in Thomond Park this Saturday.
Limerick and the wider region can expect a boost with increase in interest in Saturday’s match - expected to be close to a sell-out, despite Leinster taking just 700 tickets - while the semi-final against Clermont at the Stade de la Mosson in the idyllic southern French city on Saturday, April 27 (5pm Irish time) will undoubtedly provide a windfall for local hostelries in the area.
Fans are expected to travel in big numbers for the match in France, with Ryanair laying on special services from Shannon, Cork and Dublin to Montpellier. A spokesperson for the airline said demand for the flights has been “huge”.
“There are a limited number of seats left on the Shannon flight and we expect it to sell out,” said the spokesperson.
Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said there were a number of “positive effects” from Sunday’s 18-12 win over Harlequins.
“It is a great reward for all the loyal supporters that go to the games,” he said. “It is a reward for sponsors who are very important for the game and it is certainly a reward for constant hard work by both the players and the management.
“It generated a huge amount of media and social media coverage and will have a very positive effect on rugby in the province. It is a general boost to rugby in the province and to season ticket sales for next year,” he added.
It is believed that the organisation, which suffered losses of more than €1 million last year, are examining costs at all levels with a view to making significant savings, and, while Munster do not receive direct compensation from qualification from the knock-out stages, there are ancillary effects to consider, as well as an increase in overall payments to the IRFU.
A spokesman for the ERC said “each place in the Heineken Cup knockout stage will earn a club’s country close to €450,000 with an estimated €6.3m in meritocracy payments shared across the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals”. Mr Fitzgerald pointed out: “There is no money for being in the semi-final. The positives from qualifying is the reward for sponsors and all those people, but all the gate incomes go to the ERC, not the teams.”
“The benefit for us is being able to piggy-back on the position we are in by way of additional sales, merchandise, planning for the future and for our sponsors, things like that - we would have bonus clauses in our contracts that will kick in, not in a lot of them, but some.”
Thomond Park stadium boss John Cantwell echoed a similar sentiment ahead of what he hopes is a sell-out on Saturday.
“It is a huge knock-on, times are hard at the minute for every business and everyone is looking at cost control and how to generate income and there is no doubt a big win in the Heineken Cup helps on all fronts, and we are delighted it has happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harle-quins have launched an investigation into how thousands of Munster fans managed to get their hands on tickets for last Sunday’s match.In a statement the club said: “It was obvious from 90 minutes before kick-off that Munster’s well organised and wonderful supporters had a presence in the stadium that exceeded the number of tickets officially allocated to them.”
“Given the controlled manner that tickets were made available for the match, it is clear to the club that many of its “supporters” sold their tickets on to opposition fans.
“To say that this is disappointing for the players, coaches, management and staff of the club is an understatement. The club is determined to identify any person that sold on his or her ticket and will ensure that last Sunday’s outcome is not repeated.”