Munster’s failure to reach the Champions Cup knockout stages is set to come with a heavy financial cost, with Sunday’s final pool game likely to be the first moment of impact.
Munster’s 33-10 round five loss at Saracens on Saturday means Anthony Foley’s side cannot reach the quarter-finals of European’s top-flight competition for only the second time in 17 years.
That makes Sunday’s home clash with Sale Sharks, also eliminated, a dead rubber, with the province facing the once unthinkable possibility of empty seats at Thomond Park for what should have been a pivotal European fixture.
Munster made a big push for ticket sales on its website last week with 5,000 remaining for the 26,500-seater, though that includes season-ticket sales.
It is a further blow for the province, which announced a deficit of €800,000 for the year ending June 2013 in its most recent financial reports eight months ago.
Those reports revealed that the home Heineken Cup quarter-final with Toulouse in April 2013 made Munster a profit of more than €450,000, all from hospitality and sponsors’ performance-related bonuses as the gate and television income is divided between the IRFU as the home union and the visiting team.
Home and away defeats to Clermont Auvergne in December made a home quarter-final this time around something of a longshot for Munster but the loss of any knockout games will still be a bitter financial pill to swallow, particularly as the restructured European competition does not allow third-placed pool teams to drop into the Challenge Cup.
When Munster last suffered an early exit, in 2010-11, there was at least the cushion of a run in the second tier competition which brought a sell-out semi-final at home to Harlequins, but that revenue stream was closed and a place in the next season’s top-tier competition for the Challenge Cup winners finished when the English and French clubs forced through the end of the Heineken Cup.
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