Rugby World Cup: Fans face price hikes

By Robin Scott-Elliot of the Independent

The Webb Ellis Cup sits on the pitch with rugby balls showing the venues which will be used in the England 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Getty Images
The Webb Ellis Cup sits on the pitch with rugby balls showing the venues which will be used in the England 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Getty Images

Organisers of the 2015 Rugby World Cup face the prospect of having to price tickets higher than originally hoped in order to meet the £80m ($NZ146m) return from the tournament guaranteed to the International Rugby Board.

The withdrawal of Old Trafford and the limited availability of Wembley has seen the target number of tickets reduced from an initial three million during the bid process four years ago to around 2.6m now. At the announcement of the 13 venues and 48-match schedule, Debbie Jevans, chief executive of England Rugby 2015, promised to match the original commitment to a minimum ticket price of £7 ($NZ12.75) and insisted the £80m due the IRB will still be achieved. The figure is partially underwritten by the government.

It means mid and upper range ticket prices may have to be priced higher than first estimated for the figures to add up. During the bid process Francis Baron, then the RFU's chief executive, pitched an average ticket price of £71 ($129.50), alongside a minimum of £40 ($NZ73) for a quarter-final and £75 ($NZ137) for a semi-final.

The need to boost numbers led to the delay in announcing the final list of venues in order to allow the 54,000-seat Olympic Stadium to be included and make partial amends for Old Trafford's absence and only two matches being played at Wembley. The loss of Old Trafford - Manchester United have rugby league commitments and were concerned over the effect on the playing surface - and Wembley's contract to host an NFL match in October meant in effect a shortfall of some 600,000 seats. Five games at the Olympic Stadium, which will see its rebuild interrupted, reduces that number by around half.

"We are very confident that the financial targets will be met," said Jevans. "We are looking now at the ticketing strategy. The capacities have reduced but not to any great extent if you take the over-arching opportunity that we have and the figure that was quoted was always going to be a maximum.

"Having looked at the matches that we have and the venues we have we are confident we are going to be able to honour the minimum access prices that there were. There is certainly a commitment from us to be able to do that."

Organisers were keen to stress the perceived rugby legacy of England hosting the event, insisting the financial demands were only part of the story. "The most important thing is to inspire people to play rugby," said Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the RFU. "We are comfortable about the financial side but it is subordinate to the legacy."

The need to ensure large attendances, and the number of seats offered by Wembley, Twickenham and the Olympic Stadium, means that much of the tournament will be focussed on the south-east, although there is a geographical spread during the pool stages with games scheduled for Exeter, Newcastle, Leeds and Leicester as well as eight at the Millennium Stadium - second only to Twickenham's 10 games.

Twenty two of the 48 games will be in the south-east - 17 in London - while England's final pool game at the Etihad Stadium will be the sole fixture in Manchester. Organisers rejected claims that the tournament is overly concentrated on London and the south-east.

"Whilst yes we do have three big stadia in London we have also taken it through the whole of the country and we are proud of that fact," said Jevans. "The ambition was absolutely to take the event to the northwest and Manchester and we never at any point had a large number of games [planned for] that region. The important thing was we wanted to take England to the northwest. I don't think it is a problem."

The Welsh Rugby Union are possibly the biggest winners with Wales playing two of their pool games there as well as receiving much needed income from hosting six other matches, including two quarter-finals.

Agreeing the schedule, with the use of seven club football grounds, has also involved delicate negotiations with the Premier League and the Football League. The Rugby World Cup organisers are all too aware the tournament, which runs from England's opening Friday-night game on 18 September to the final on Saturday, 31 October, runs in competition with the football season. "The whole of our plan has been to minimise impact on the football schedule," said Jevans, formerly director of sport for the London Olympics.

Lawrence Dallaglio, an ambassador for the tournament, insists rugby should not be "threatened" by football. "People have to appreciate this is the third biggest sporting event in the world," said Dallaglio.

The organisers' ambition is bold, not just in the number of seats in 13 stadia it aims to fill, but also the impact it wants the tournament to have on this country's sporting landscape. "We want England to feel like a rugby nation in 2015," said Jevans, drawing parallels with how 1966 is recalled. "We want 2015 to be a rugby year."

Rugby World Cup 2015 Match Venues and Host Cities...
1. Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton & Hove - 30,750
2. Manchester City Stadium, Manchester - 47,800
3. Elland Road, Leeds - 37,914
4. Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester - 16,115
5. Leicester City Stadium, Leicester - 32,312
6. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - 74,154
7. Olympic Stadium, London - 54,000
8. Sandy Park, Exeter - 12,300
9. Stadium mk, Milton Keynes - 30,717
10. St James' Park, Newcastle- 52,409
11. Twickenham Stadium, London - 81,605
12. Villa Park, Birmingham - 42,785
13. Wembley Stadium, London - 90,256

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