In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Aidan Corr looks at how Munster’s last four league games of the season in Cork will effect the season’s overall attendance figures.
IT was remarked to me recently by a Corkonian friend of mine that Limerick has been spoilt by the number of high-profile rugby games played in Thomond Park since its re-development.
He had a point. Attendances at local headquarters have dropped considerably in recent seasons with neither of the uncovered terrace ends of the ground even opened for recent Guinness Pro 12 fixtures.
Re-wind to 1998 when 200 attended a Munster v Leinster interpro in Dooradoyle and the early days of the new millennium when fans queued throughout the night outside the ground for tickets for Munster Heineken Cup games. Those were the days when desperate situations required desperate measures. I recall an emergency vehicle succeeding only at the third attempt to clear the high kerbstone of the path leading to the gates of the Limerick stadium because of the weight of numbers huddled inside its closed doors.
On another occasion I succeeded in getting an admission ticket for a dedicated fan of my own vintage from a Branch official which, on closer inspection read, ‘IRFU, Official Match Ballboy.’ Security was far less intent as it is these days and the recipient still considers the laminated piece of card to be one of his most treasured possessions.
While work on the splendid improvements at Musgrave Park had ruled out any Munster games being played in the southern capital so far this season, that will all change on Saturday, February 14 ,next when the newly-named Irish Independent Park will host the Pro 12 meeting of Munster and Cardiff Blues. The province’s other remaining league home games of the play-off stages will also be played there. The move back south, however, will come at a cost.
A quick bout of number crunching will reveal that this season’s first four league games at the Limerick venue attracted a combined total of 53,314.
Even if the new-look Irish Independent Park (or the Indo Park as it is being called by Leeside) fill to its full capacity of 9,500 for those last four home games (against Cardiff, Glasgow, Treviso and the Dragons), it would leave Munster down approximately 15,000 supporters on the four games to date.
On that basis the income differential between the first four home games at Thomond Park and the last four of the league proper in Irish Independent Park, based on €25 tickets, could, in theory, be in the region over €380,000. Not to be sniffed at.
While Cork fans have always been hugely supportive of the Limerick stadium when Munster are in action, it will be interesting to see what volume of support from this region will travel down the N20 for those final listed games of the Guinness Pro 12. The opposition aren’t attractive, there will be bigger European games in Thomond and the Six Nations will get most of the attention at that time of the year.
The branding of Musgrave Park also indicates a change in policy from those at the helm of the game in the Pro 12.
Three Irish rugby venues, all in different provinces, have already availed of branding: Irish Independent Park (Munster), Aviva Stadium (Leinster) and Kingspan Stadium (Ulster) as have BT Sports Cardiff Arms Park in Wales and BT Murrayfield in Scotland.
Financial needs mean branding is the name of the game these days and one wonders how long more Thomond Park can hold onto its independence.