The IRFU are bracing themselves for the possibility of a maximum 75 per cent capacity at the Aviva Stadium for the November internationals against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina. A notice to that effect has been sent to all those entitled to purchase tickets for the trio of matches.
They have also advised would-be ticket buyers that, in-line with existing Government guidelines, proof of immunity from Covid (ie Covid certificates and ID) may be required to gain entry to the stadium.
The capacity at the Aviva Stadium is 51,700, and as things stand there is a restriction of 75 per cent capacity at outdoor sports events, which equates to a crowd of 38,775. However the shortfall of 12,925 would probably translate to around €800,000 in lost revenue compared to a capacity crowd as they wouldn’t be premium or the most expensive tickets.
However, the Union are awaiting a further Government decision on sporting attendances on October 22nd, the date when final restrictions are due to be lifted, including the requirements for physical distancing, for mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings, and the limits on numbers at indoor and outdoor events and activities.
If a capacity of 100 per cent is permitted for the three November tests, then the remaining 25 per cent of tickets will most likely go on sale through Ticketmaster, as that would be the most effective way of selling and distributing them in the relatively limited timeframe.
Ireland host Japan on Saturday, November 6th, with a 1pm kick-off, before meeting New Zealand a week later on November 13th, kick-off 3.15pm, and then entertain Argentina on Sunday, November 20th, kick-off 2.15pm.
The IRFU email to prospective ticket buyers states: “Please note that Government guidelines currently allow a maximum 75% capacity, where all attendees are immune, being those who are fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 6 months or are an accompanied minor (under 18). Patrons may be required to provide their Covid Certificate and ID to gain entry. It is critical that all patrons purchasing tickets are aware of these criteria for entry to the stadium.”
The notice added: “It is essential that you keep contact details for everyone that you distribute tickets to in the event they are required by the HSE for contact tracing.”
The last time Ireland hosted a sizeable crowd at an international in the Aviva Stadium was on Saturday, February 8th, 2019, for the 24-12 Six Nations win over Wales. Since then, Ireland have played eight tests at the stadium all without crowds save for the 3,000 and 6,000 attendances for the Japan and USA games last July, beginning with the re-arranged 2019 Six Nations match against Italy in November last year.
In light of the scheduled November tests against South Africa, Japan and Australia being called off due to the Covid pandemic, Ireland hosted Wales, Georgia and Scotland in the hybrid Autumn Nations Cup games at the Aviva Stadium behind closed doors. There were also no fans permitted inside the stadium for the 2021 Six Nations games at home to France and England.
The ensuing financial losses for the Union have been eye-watering.
The IRFU’s annual accounts confirmed a loss of €35 million in 2020, and there is a projected loss of €10 million in 2021, which also has to take into account the €18 million bailout from Sport Ireland, the €2.5 million in Government wage subsidies, as well as the €13 million of CVC monies through the Six Nations investment deal with CVC Capital Partners that went straight to the provinces to keep them afloat. In effect therefore, the losses in 2021 will amount to over €40 million.
The absence of supporters for the re-scheduled 2020 Six Nations game at home to Italy would have seen the IRFU lose around €3.5 million in gate receipts. The cancellation of the 2020 November games against South Africa, Japan and Australia would have led to a projected loss in excess of €7.5 to 8 million in gate receipts, plus the loss of hospitality revenues.
Hosting France and England in February and March of this year without fans being admitted would have seen another shortfall of more than €8 million, and again the loss of hospitality revenues, which would have been around €1 million.
Hence, all in all, hosting the 2020 Six Nations games against Italy and the 2021 games against France and England without fans either side of losing out on last year’s November Tests, would have seen the IRFU incur losses of more than €20 million alone.
A full programme of November tests in front of capacity crowds would thus be a timely fillip of around €8-9 million for the IRFU’s coffers. Japan, whose hosting of the World Cup pool win over Ireland and the exciting brand of running rugby they showcased at a near-empty Aviva last July, ensures they have never been more attractive visitors, while a first meeting with the All Blacks, who recently retained their Rugby Championship crowd, since the World Cup quarter-finals could probably sell out the Aviva twice over.