It would be easy to blame a lousy season on the pitch for the miserable reading Munster Rugby’s accounts made for delegates at last Thursday’s annual general meeting.
A forecast deficit of €1.95m for the year ending June 30, 2016 was attributed in the main to the lack of knockout rugby in both Europe and the PRO12 along with league games with unfavourable kick-off times during the World Cup.
Yet this was no unexpected financial downturn on foot of a poor season, rather the continuation of a declining trend in gate income coupled with rising player and staff costs.
When the accounts were presented to Munster Branch delegates to the AGM at Young Munster last week, the presentation delivered by financial controller Philip Quinn featured a slide headlined by the pertinent question: “How Did We Get To This Position”.
To illustrate further, Quinn compared the 2015/2016 figures to those of 2009/10, when Munster had a squad which had won two Heineken Cups together and supplied more than half of the starting XV and 11 of the matchday 22 that had clinched Ireland’s first Grand Slam since 1948.
Heady times indeed and very much a pinnacle as far as the province’s finances were concerned. Since that 09/10 season, gate income has decreased by €2.7m, with failures to reach the European knockout stages in 2011, 2015 and 2016 costing €0.55m alone. Season ticket sales have fallen away by €0.3m while the decrease in tickets sold through the clubs amounts to €1.04m over the last six years.
Over the same period, Munster’s professional team costs have increased by €1.7m, although €1.1m of that has been offset by additional IRFU grants.
The net rise of player costs amounts to €265,000 while staff costs outside of the playing squad have increased by €450,000.
Quinn told the Irish Examiner that Munster’s ticket price strategy was not the problem, rather a combination of on-field decline and a number of PRO12 kick-off times that have prevented a sizeable contingent of supporters from attending games at Thomond Park for what would otherwise have been attractive fixtures.
Pointing to a review of ticket pricing conducted over the last two years and increasing flexibility regarding season ticket holders and supporters club members, Quinn added: “Our individual match ticket costs remain the same and are actually the most affordable PRO12 and European tickets in Ireland.
“We’re replicating that for the New Zealand Maori match (this November, with an early bird discount for tickets bought before September 1) so we feel we’re extremely competitive on the price of tickets.
“The feedback from the supporters is that. It’s not the pricing, it’s their ability to make matches because of kick-off times and, of course, our on-pitch performance. We’ve had a very poor season on and off the pitch and as a result it’s been very tough but we do believe we can get back in it.”
Getting to Thomond Park for a 6pm kick-off may not be a problem for supporters living within Limerick but Munster’s analysis of ticket sales by county for games at Thomond Park suggest that those living closest to Munster’s spiritual home are heavily outnumbered by those in the province’s five other counties and beyond.
Sales in Limerick amount to 29%, with the remaining 71% dominated by sales in Cork accounting for 28% while 13% of tickets are picked up by expats in Dublin.
“When we do attendance by county it’s very interesting. Cork accounts for 28% of sales but it drops to 24% when you look at attendance, purely because of kick-off times. We wanted to show that to people because there is this perception that all the support is in Limerick and we can drive that but we need the support of the full province, without a doubt.”
There is no reverse situation for Musgrave Park matches, although there are usually less attractive fixtures at Munster’s secondary stadium.
Nevertheless, when the province does play at the recently redeveloped venue, it is the people of the host city that form the “massive” majority. Plenty of food for thought as Munster look for ways to turn things around on and off the pitch.
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