No more Thomond concerts: Munster putting rugby to the fore in future 

The decision to hold an Ed Sheeran concert had been met with criticism when Munster secured a home draw with the defending champions and were unable to play at their spiritual home.
No more Thomond concerts: Munster putting rugby to the fore in future 

Denise Chalia supporting Ed Sheeran at Thomond Park. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Munster will not rent out Thomond Park for future concerts during the rugby season, despite turning a profit after moving their European quarter-final to Aviva Stadium in Dublin last weekend.

Munster suffered sporting anguish on the pitch last Saturday when Johann van Graan’s team lost a penalty-kick competition to Toulouse after 100 minutes of rugby had failed to separate the Heineken Champions Cup rivals. It was a game watched by 40,476 supporters, 14,000 more than would have been able to watch the Reds had the province not been forced to switch their game from Thomond Park to the Aviva after renting out their own stadium to concert promoters for two Ed Sheeran concerts last Thursday and Friday.

The decision had been met with criticism when Munster secured a home draw with the defending champions and were unable to play at their spiritual home but Munster Rugby’s Chief Operating Officer Philip Quinn has told the Irish Examiner the decision to stage the Sheeran gigs had been taking during the height of the Covid pandemic when stadia were shut and staff redundancies were being made as a result of the cutbacks necessary in a sharp economic downturn.

Yet, as successful as both the concerts and the staging of the match in Dublin proved to be Quinn was adamant that it would not be repeated, if at all possible.

“It’s a good question, does it vindicate it looking back? Yes, we had to make the decision at the time but personally no, it doesn’t vindicate it,” Quinn said. “Our purpose is rugby.

“Looking back at the time, did we make the right decision? Completely, but is it a decision we want to make? No.

“Thomond Park is there for rugby, simple as that. Rugby always comes first. Yes, it was the survival of the club at the time but if we’re making those decisions in future, no, it’s rugby. We want to play those games in Thomond Park, simple as that.” Quinn admitted that subsidising ticket prices and travel from each of the province’s six counties to Dublin “was the least we could do” as he explained how Munster had arrived at a €20 match ticket and €10 return coach fare.

“There’s been a lot of talk around the decision itself, why did we move the game? We made a decision during Covid times, we’d gone through restructurings and redundancies and all of this and we’d no guarantee of gate income and financial stability really, more than anything.

“So this (the Ed Sheeran concerts) was on the table and it allowed us into a situation where didn’t have to make as many cuts as we had thought we’d have to because the finances were guaranteed.

“But once (the quarter-final) became a reality, which wasn’t where we wanted to be, the first decision for us was we need to make this as accessible as possible for supporters, genuinely. We had a three-week turnaround, we were very conscious the GAA is up and running a lot earlier, communions are on at the weekends and we thought it was going to be a huge challenge for us just to get 30,000 to the game, not to mind going any higher than that.

“So we looked at our prices in Thomond, we knew we needed to make them cheaper than that because people had to travel at additional cost and we were really conscious of the fact that everything is going up in terms of prices at the moment, everybody’s under pressure and we needed to make this as accessible as possible.

“It wasn’t a financial decision, it was a case of let’s try and get as many people into the ground as possible. So we came up with an offer of €20 for the ticket price, €10 for the bus and that €30 was in line with the price of what a ticket would have been in Thomond, which we said was a realistic charge. That was reflected very well in how many buses we had. We had 16 buses ourselves and another 18 that we subsidised with clubs so there was 34 in total that we subsidised directly and that obviously kicked on with the attendance.

“Being honest, it was the least we could do. It was our decision to take the booking for Ed Sheeran, we took responsibility for that and it was a case of then saying ’okay, we need to reward our supporters’, those that could make it up. There were lots of reasons why people weren’t able to make it up but we had to make sure finance wasn’t one of those.” Quinn said Munster had been grateful to governing body the IRFU for what appeared to be favourable terms on the Aviva Stadium rental, foregoing some of the revenue due to them from the province’s 50 per cent share of the takings, the visiting team having been entitled to the other 50 per cent under the competition organiser’s Participation Agreement.

“We did make a profit on the game itself but the reduction in the ticket price meant it was a lot lower than it would have been at because profit wasn’t our priority when we were setting that ticket price,” he added.

“It worked out. The atmosphere was incredible but that’s down to the supporters. I’ve been around Munster for a long time, it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve experienced an atmosphere like that.

“We were hoping to get 26,000 at it, we went over 40,000 and the crowd were absolutely amazing but we judge ourselves by winning on the pitch and we didn’t. We came really close but that’s not us, we’re not gallant losers, we need to win, that’s how we judge ourselves.”

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