Can we put Alone it Stands on again?

We noted the recent article by Charlie Mulqueen in the Examiner regarding Munster’s finances with interest.  Things are coming to a head down south following a year in which the province showed a budget deficit of €658,000, with a shortfall in ticket sales cited as the reason.

Lest we forget, Munster is a quirky province with two large rugby playing metropolises, which don’t always see eye to eye with one another.  As the Rubberbandits put it in their guide to Limerick, ‘if you don’t like it you can f*** off down to Cork’.

One curiosity in what Fitzgerald was saying stood out.  He more than once referred to the lack of a touring match at Thomond Park as a reason for the shortfall in ticket sales, and criticised the IRFU for not allowing them host a touring side.  It strikes WoC that running your business based on occasional, often exciting, but ultimately meaningless touring friendlies could be foolhardy in the extreme.  Sure, they have made for some great nights, but they’re not the bread and butter on which to build a successful franchise.  Ian Nagle was a hero after beating Australia, but it proved the foundations for… what exactly?

We know that putting it up to touring bigwigs from the Southern Hemisphere is an important part of Munster’s identity, but they cannot be a primary source of funds either – a better balance is needed.

This season was notable for a handful of miserable games at Musgrave Park in which Munster played abysmally and fans preferred to stay away.  Munster’s sojourns to Musgrave Park tend to be loss leaders as a sop to the Cork half of the province, and at this point it’s worth questioning whether they should continue, especially with the low turnout (relative to Thomond). Neither of us has ever been to the ground, but by all accounts it’s something of a dump.  Why bother when you’ve a fantastic, sparkling new and adored stadium in Limerick?  Admittedly it’s not that straightforward, there’s a huge amount of politics involved, and we’re keenly aware that Cork is the biggest city in the province and it’s hard for them to see their team, particularly with it being a two hour (at best) journey on sometimes dodgy roads to Limerick.

The move to a single training base is a start in de-polarising Munster rugby, and should prove a fruitful move for them.  They reckoned it would equate to 44 extra hours of training next season – heck, they could even teach Keith Earls to pass in 44 hours.  Word has it that ligindary centre John ‘Rags’ Kelly is one of those in the ranks who drove this agenda strongly.

But, either way, it seems to us that Munster Rugby is missing a trick.  Rather than bemoaning the IRFU not allowing them a chance to dredge up the spirit of 1978 on a seasonal basis, more focus should go on the eleven competitive home league matches, and swelling the coffers for those.  Munster have never really marketed the Rabo as a desirable product to its fans.  In the past the team has almost been happy to use dreadful performances in the league as a means of playing possum, before dialling up the intensity in the only cup that matters to them.  Tony McGahan attempted to stiffen up the team’s league performances, twice winning the thing, but this year’s showing under Rob Penney was poor, and at times, such as away to Glasgow and at home to Scarlets, utterly dismal.  Their icon, Ronan O’Gara had no problem going on record and sniffily dismissing the league as unimportant.

But it’s an improving competition, a pot more than worth winning and most importantly, it’s the most consistent and reliable source of revenue there is.  It’s high time Munster stopped worrying and learned to love the Pro12.

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43 Comments

  1. Michael

     /  June 10, 2013

    I know its TV but the times are too late. Who can be arsed going to a match at 8pm on a Saturday? Especially if you have to fu*k off back to Cork afterwards.

    • Amiga500

       /  June 10, 2013

      But you’d get to spend a few hours out of Cork.

      Surely reason enough….

  2. William Tell

     /  June 10, 2013

    I prefer my articles with a can of worms 😉

  3. I hear a lot from Connacht fans saying they’d be happy to help swell the Munster coffers if they’d only play them at Thomond instead of Musgrave.

    • Connachtexile

       /  June 10, 2013

      Agreed. Barely anyone traveled this year and that included Munster fans which lead to a small crowd in what is a derby game and terefore should be sold out or close to it. Most Connacht supporters I talked to also said they wouldn’t bother going again if it took place in Cork as it makes for a crappy atmosphere and is a pain to get to compared to Limerick.

  4. Simon Farrell (@SFarrell_5)

     /  June 10, 2013

    I agree with the hypothesis that infrequent ‘big’ games, scheduled on the whims of others should be viewed as an occasional cash-cow rather then an expected financial bedrock to be depended upon. Personally however I’ve been coming around to the idea that one (and possibly a second) smaller November International should be given to the outliers in Limerick and Belfast. Either rotate the lesser of the traditional three fixtures between the two grounds or (pending an analysis of the depth of player-pool) arrange a 4th fixture vs another lower-ranked team and have each venue get a game. The Elephant in the room is that as per the naming rights contract for Landsdowne Road all home Test matches apparently have to be played there; Should the IRFU seek to engineer a way out of this apparent contractual obligation or run the risk of disinterested performance like the Fijians (apparently upset at the games non-cap status) in Thomond last year remains to be seen. As a Leinsterman, who benefits greatly from proximity to the countries main arena, it’s surely only fair to start sharing the games – and the wealth.

    • Len

       /  June 10, 2013

      Could we start running tests for the Wolfhounds against lesser teams who might welcome the challenge? Would this generate enough interest from the rugby public in Limerick and Belfast to fill the places sufficiently to break even?

    • Wherever a test match is held, the money would go to the IRFU, not Munster. What Munster are looking for is a midweek friendly against one of the touring sides.

      • zdm

         /  June 10, 2013

        Aye but Munster would collect the money from all the pints of Guinness and sausage baps sold would they not?

        Personally speaking, I’d rather use my hard-earned to watch Ulster play at Ravenhill than the Wolfhounds.

    • Buccaneer

       /  June 10, 2013

      Still a great point by Simon though on the spreading of the games around. Was thinking that exact same point recently that at least one test a year should be played in Limerick or Belfast if not 2. I hate the idea of a national team ‘belonging’ to one city. I think its a great idea to spread it around. The 4 big SH rugby teams do it. So do the Spanish, German, Italian and Brazilian football teams. Sorry for going off topic but its something I have been thinking about lately

  5. Len

     /  June 10, 2013

    Maybe it’s a marketing issue or the two bases but this doesn’t seem to be as big an issue for Leinster. I know plenty of fans from places like Wexford (two and a half hours away from Dublin) who regularly make the trip, even for late kick offs. As to the touring parties I would like to see the provinces hosting sides in mid week friendlies (and not just Munster), but as you point out that should be a bonus.

    • there’s a motorway from Wexford to Dublin .. heck there’s motorway from most places to dublin, but the road between cork & limerick is pitiful, & generally around the province the roads between the main centers of population are pretty rubbish. Unless you happen to be on a by-the-way route that aligns with one of the Dublin motorways you’re pretty much guaranteed to be on good old fashioned single carriageway getting to Cork or Limerick. (a few exceptions do apply e.g. ennis to Limerick)

  6. Interesting perspective. As a Clare resident you can presume I’m less inclined to make the trek to Musgrave Park & for the last 2 seasons I had dropped the Musgrave part of my Rabo season ticket, primarily because too many of the fixtures down there were on Friday evenings. Strangely since then more of the musgrave fixtures have been on Sat/Sun, but yet again the pre-season match scheduled for Musgrave in August is a Friday evening fixture ensuring zero-attendance from the northern half of the province. The one musgrave park match I made it to last season was the torrential downpour against scarlets, and the only reason I went was because I was at the womens match against irish exiles in clonmel earlier in the day so went onward to Cork from there.
    The attitude of certain Munster players toward the Rabo has left me very frustrated as a supporter, some of the displays in recent times have been shameful, and one of the reasons a lot of Munster supporters were calling for Keatley to get the nod ahead of ROG early in the last season was due to the truly shocking performances ROG had put in during the rabo matches. Munster has become a very commercial entity in the past few years with the associated attitude towards it’s supporters, the commercial manager behind that has thankfully left their employ & the attitude appears to be changing with a concerted effort last season to have players among the supporters at matches when they are not playing. Some of the players had become too protected & insulated from the supporters on the ground & lost touch with reality.

  7. I think you are oversimplifying the Cork aspect of things (it’s not the main point of the article so that’s fair), Cork people make up a sizeable chunk of the Thomond crowd, easily over a few thousand for Heineken Cup days, if you cut off all matches to Cork there will be anarchy, and I know Garrett Fitzgerald, he realises that Cork play a large role in Munster Rugby and if you cut it off then Munster will be in big trouble.

    As a Cork and Munster man (don’t worry I’m thankfully not a Cork Con head) I’ve wondered how we can actually improve the situation in Cork. The problem with Musgrave Park has been somewhat cyclical. We get poor quality games, and we get poor crowds, now you can argue which came first, (I would say poor games as a couple of years ago we would still get 7000 or so v Aironi/Zebre) but it becomes a chicken or the egg situation. Do we get poor games because we get poor crowds and show we couldn’t make money from a big match or do we get rubbish crowds because we are subjected to the same games time after time? (Cork always seems to get a combination of the following four: Newport Gwent Dragons, Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues, Zebre, Scarlets, Glasgow, with Glasgow becoming less frequent as they improve )

    I agree our attitude to the Pro 12 needs to change, it is a competition worth winning and we need to put a greater deal of focus on it, if our players don’t care about it why should our fans fork out 20 quid or more to go and watch these players go through the motions? I can understand why Penney put focus on one competition in his first year, as he tried to change our style and things like that but that attitude has to change somewhat from this year.

    The “rivalry” between the two counties should be explored and developed, Cork should probably be given a pretty big game, show that we can be good fans and that we love our team, I think that a bit of rivalry between the two can be a good thing, we’ll see the passion of the fans and make efforts to show who loves their team more, if promoted the right way it could be done really well, and you could probably get the best from both counties. In later years, I would like to see Munster move the odd quarter final away from Thomond, try and draw in interest from the non rugby parts of the county, I’ve always felt that’s an area we’ve missed out on. Play a quarter final in Fitzgerald’s Stadium, Semple Stadium ,the Gaelic Grounds or even Pairc Uí Chaíomh (when it’s finished redevelopment), the GAA will be grand if you give them a few bob and long term I think it could help grow rugby.

    Apologies for the ramble, nice stuff lads.

    • Thanks indeed Conor. As you say, we only touched on the Cork-Limerick thing, and as outsiders, we’re not party to the nuances of it. Thanks a million for sharing the Cork perspective on it, very instructive for us, and plenty of our readers I expect.

    • Stevo

       /  June 10, 2013

      Your point about the poor quality of opposition in Musgrave Park is well made, but it doesn’t look likely to change any time soon for the simple reason that the capacity is too small. Musgrave Park has a total capacity of 9,000 or so, which is 5,000 less than the lowest attended Rabo game held in Thomond in the 2012/13 season. That game was a Friday night fixture against Zebre, so the scheduling and quality of the opposition is not a factor. Even if Musgrave is packed to the rafters (and it rarely is) the province is effectively losing potential income when matches are played there.

      • I think the concept of Loss Leader will be one that is implemented, you may lose out in the short term with certain games but long term you will gain more fans with bigger games here.

    • Amiga500

       /  June 10, 2013

      Paric na nGael is literally just down the road from Thomond… not sure how much point there would be in playing in the Gaelic grounds to be honest.

      But aside from that – how would the season ticket holders from Limerick react to the game being moved to… say… Thurles or Killarney?

  8. I was at the Munster Connacht match in Musgrave, you’re being kind terming it a bit of a dump. I don’t think the “move everything to Thomond” is going to solve the money problems: lots of Thomond seats were empty last year; the dud matches assigned to Cork don’t sell out so why would they in Thomond; there would probably be a cost in terms of the labyrinthine Munster season ticketing scheme (you can buy a Thomond season ticket, or a Musgrave one, or both, and then you go on a waiting list for someone to give up their HEC ticket or die, and then you have the right to buy a HEC season ticket, and then when the wind is from the West and the crows are at the tops of the trees… look one of my mates has one, he’s tried to explain it to me but…); and the Wolfhounds suggestion in the comments is a waste of time, for the moneyed rugby fan it’s sandwiched between the Decisive HEC Away Trip and the 6 Nations Opener, and for the rest of us, well, this year fewer people turned up to the Sportsground than attended Connacht vs. Edinburgh, Dragons, or Zebre, in the Rabo.

  9. Simon O'Keeffe

     /  June 10, 2013

    this is going sound harsh and divisive but for the cost of one away game in Europe a Munster fan could buy tickets to all the home league games and that way the money goes to the branch and not Michael O’Leary

    • Amiga500

       /  June 10, 2013

      hehehehe…. you got your tin hat on?

    • a lot of the attendance figures for Munster are inflated by rabo season ticket holders who are not actually at the games. In the supporters club you can NOT buy HEC tickets pre-season without having a Rabo season ticket. Granted some may have bought the musgrave season ticket as it’s the cheapest (fewest games & cheaper prices) but there’s a fair proportion have Thomond season tickets. I think there was about 1,000 MRSC full members with combined venue rabo tickets last season, going by the numbers we got on the HEC away ticket lottery communications.
      A bigger issue for a lot of musnter supporters is simply the cost of tickets, this year the MRSC allowed the option of payment over 6 months for next season to try & help folks with cash-flow issues. But there are regular complaints that tickets are too expensive particularly when games aren’t a sell-out.

      • ORiordan

         /  June 10, 2013

        AFAIK all teams report ST holders in the match attendance, whether they turn up or not.

        To pick up on salmsonconnacht, the Munster ticketing system sounds Byzantine in its complexity. Is it not a major mistake having HEC and Pro12 tickets split to the degree they are?

        if a favoured few are able to cherry-pick just the HEC games, then Munster are potentially losing out on money for 11 home Pro12 games (where ever they may be…) and if other season tickets just include Pro12, but no HEC, then there is a disincentive to buy these as well.

  10. ORiordan

     /  June 10, 2013

    I took a look at the 12/13 senior squads listed on the websites of the respective provinces, and the numbers were:
    Leinster: 40
    Munster: 46
    Ulster: 41

    Back in the noughties when Munster were supplying the majority of the Irish team, there would have been a case why Munster needed bigger squads than the other provinces. But now?

    In Munster squad I suspect there are too many journeymen players who aren’t getting very much game time in even the Pro12.

    Could they be there at the behest of the Munster AIL clubs who are only too happy to have a full time pro available to them most of the time, wages being paid for by Munster?

    Would a cull of Munster’s squad down to the level of the other provinces really weaken them that much? It would certainly reduce costs.

    (I haven’t been following the ins and outs of Munster at the end of the season so apologies if there already has been some culling)

    • there’s been some culling .. quite a bit, and the squad figures are inflated by the players on “development” contracts .. a bit beyond academy but not quite proven they deserve a full senior contract yet.

  11. ORiordan

     /  June 10, 2013

    AFAIK all the provinces have development contracts as a bridge between the academy and a longer professional contract. The senior squads listed on the websites and the numbers I gave for Leinster, Munster and Ulster include players on development contracts although I haven’t checked the relative numbers of these players for each province.

  12. Spice

     /  June 10, 2013

    There’s no easy solution, but there definitlely hasn’t been the same marketing drive in Munster as there has been in Leinster towards the Rabo (I dont know what it has been like up North or out West). As ridiculous as it is the ‘Blue Magic’ campaign has been a great success around Dublin + further afield. It is helped by the fact that Leinster play exciting rugby and have a much bigger population but they have created an image of a carnival atmosphere around the RDS games with tongue-in-cheek slogans such as the D4tress etc.
    I dont have any major suggestions but there could definitley be more effort and resource put into the marketing of these fixtures down South.
    Is there also an opportunity to marry the dwindling AIL attendances with this problem. Could organisers attempt a double-header, with Cork Con or Dolphin playing a league game as warm up to the main event in Musgrave, Garryowen or Young Munster playing before Zebre in Thomond might also drum up interest. ‘A’ or u20 interpros could also be a good tevchnique.
    As a relatively seasoned fan I would be more inclined to going along to see some of the up and coming players get a shot to impress infornt of a decent sized crowd than drudge along to another Rabo slog against the Cardiff Blues.
    Just an idea-I would leave the logistics up to more qualified individuals.
    As an aside, after watching the USA game the other night, I was really impressed by the crowd. There was an amazing atmosphere for a game that has virtually no support. The US threw out a viral advert with the lepreachaun and had “rugby-genius’ ” knocking about the stadium to educate the inexperienced crowd. Certainly a tactic that would prove useful around the stadiums in Ireland (the fan-base is by and large pretty under-educated on the ins and outs of the game).
    In answer to the comment above, as a Limerick supporter I would be more tha happy to go to a match in Thurles, etc.

    • I think it’s like Eileesh and Conor have put it above – why should the punters pay to see the team play if the players don’t care about it? I don’t want to be unduly critical of Munster here – and there are reasons why the league has never been important to them. Back when the league was finding its feet Munster were getting to Heineken Cup finals, so of course it didn’t matter. Leinster had a different rise to prominence – they flattered to deceive for years but when they won the league in 2007-08 it was on the back of a number of hard fought away wins which showed a new side to them, and as a result there was a lot of pride in the success. As a result, I think the fans in Leinster have always held the league in higher regard.

      • ORiordan

         /  June 10, 2013

        There won’t be a HEC in 14/15 if there is no agreement between participants, so the Pro12 will be the only game in town.

        Even if the HEC goes ahead, it is quite likely to be a smaller competition and the qualification rules will change.

        So for example, if there are 6 HEC qualification places from the Pro12 based upon top team from each country and the highest placed teams after that, then Munster wouldn’t have qualified for the HEC this year (although they may have qualified on the back of Leinster’s ACC win if that rule remains)

        • ORiordan

           /  June 10, 2013

          .. so changes to the HEC one way or the other may end up being the incentive to treat the Pro12 more seriously.

  13. zdm

     /  June 10, 2013

    Who is responsible for the up-keep of the provincial grounds? The IRFU or the Provinces?

    • Len

       /  June 10, 2013

      From the IRFU financial statements they look to a JV between the IRFU and the province.

      • zdm

         /  June 10, 2013

        So from an economics point of view, what do the IRFU have to gain by helping to maintain two venues? What odds on them allowing Musgrave to deteriorate to the point where the stadium would need completely replaced and then refusing the funding on an expense basis?

        • The odds on that would be astronomical. The Munster Branch run Musgrave Park, and there are two resident clubs there. They’ve also announced an upgrade to begin 2014, partly paid for by the sale of some land on the site. They will replace a temporary rented stand with a permanent one of similar capacity but including corporate facilities. Munster Rugby have restated their commitment to Cork as a secondary venue, and you should expect games to remain there for the short to medium term, as a sop, if nothing else. The Branch itself is as much Cork as it is Limerick, and a lot of people in it would consider it a matter of honour and tradition that Munster games should still be played in Cork.

          • zdm

             /  June 10, 2013

            Hah! That’s me told then!
            So is the Munster branch keeping Musgrave going by itself?

            It seems an impossible situation – Ulster benefit from the fact that the rugby power-houses are either Belfast based or so rural that they are the only club for miles and Leinster benefit from having the overwhelming pull of a million-people city to base themselves out of.

            As a matter of interest, what do the Limerick-based Munster fans say about all of this?

          • The Limerick based fans thought it was the Munster A team that played in Cork. Oh wait, it is!

          • Len

             /  June 10, 2013

            Joking aside that could be one way of generating some interest. Have the A team make Musgrave their home ground and include their home games on season tickets. People might be more enthusiastic about competitive B&I cup rugby than the disinterested performances being produced in the Rabo

          • One way of looking at is that the Branch have slightly different objectives in mind than their professional arm – Munster Rugby. Musgrave Park has a greater value to them than it does to the pro team, as it serves many more functions than just being an occasional venue for Munster. I imagine they, and they are the IRFU in this matter, would rather that Munster Rugby lose a few players than that they should have to sell or tarnish the family silver.

            The pro side have built up some credit from the good years, and their SF this year will have made some contribution to IRFU coffers, so the losses will be absorbed by the Branch for now. Thomond Park Stadium Company recently received a capital contribution of €8.9m from the IRFU in the form of debt forgiveness. I’d guess that was part of the €10m owed by Munster Rugby for their half of TPSC. It seems like the pro side will still collect half of any profits from Thomond Park, but their debt obligations/interest payments will be lessened.

            I don’t know what the Limerick folk think. Some undoubtedly want all games to be played at Thomond. I don’t know whether that’s the general feeling.

  14. Stevo

     /  June 10, 2013

    Sure won’t Dougie Howlett’s retirement knock half that amount off next year’s wages bill?

  15. jojo

     /  June 12, 2013

    Its been touched on but I imagine a large reason for poor attendences is that the second string munster side are not particularly exciting. Watching Leinster I often prefer the matches where you get to see the academy players. Is it beacuse they are more excitin and better (probably) but also Leinster try them out. The likes of hanrahan are exciting but thats all I’ve got… maybe I’m wrong

  16. Yossarian

     /  June 12, 2013

    Agree,i see BOD,D’Arcy,Sexton etc so often over the years that it can be interesting to see Madigan, Jordi Murphy,Luke McGrath, Dave Kearney or Conway etc and how they are progressing.
    Are Munster fans just not as interested?(despite the portrayal over the years of the knowledgeable fans) are the players just not as exciting and as interesting to the fans?

    To Munster fans credit i think a lot of it might come down to the fact that a lot of them live in Dublin(not talking about “Lunster” fans,but rather they have moved for work) It is a lot to ask of fans to travel every weekend to Cork or Limerick. A journey they are willing to make for the bigger H-Cup games.

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