Yesterday’s announcement of venues and ticket prices for the 2015 Rugby World Cup has produced the inevitable acres of protest from media pundits and lobby interests alike.
I have some sympathy for the tournament organisers. As with soccer World Cups and Olympics, there’s a degree to which both ‘you cannot please everyone all the time’ and ‘whatever you do is wrong’.
Commercial imperatives – financial guarantees to world governing bodies, recovering the costs of running events this big, meeting the demands of the broadcasters who have underwritten everything with their superlatively-large rights fees – collide head-on with the human practicalities and preferences of ordinary fans who will be attending the games. Perhaps it is a case of never the interests of the twain shall meet.
Writing as someone who decided to give up attending matches at the RFU’s iconic Twickenham Stadium as long ago as 2008, I must declare a personal interest. My decision then was based exclusively upon the poor quality of the Twickenham match-day experience, as this extract from my letter to the then RFU chief executive Francis Baron made clear, just days after attending the 2008 Premiership London Double Header:
‘For all its new and improved facilities and amenities, the Twickenham experience is mundane or worse. There are lengthy queues for everything. The price of food and drink is exorbitant and the quality questionable – on Saturday my companion and I paid £9 for two small meat pies served in cardboard boxes; they were scalding hot, their constituency was soup-like and they disintegrated upon being handled.
The activities surrounding the two Premiership matches were amateurish and unimpressive. At half-time during the Saracens versus Harlequins game a group of schoolgirls gave an exhibition of team dancing that in other circumstances might have been a parody, so random was their formation and so out of synch and out of time with the music was their display. I don’t mean to be unfair to either them or their coach, but as the spectators around me in the West Stand watched in wide-eyed amazement bordering on disbelief one chap spoke for many when he exclaimed in a strong stage whisper “ … It’s not exactly the Beijing Opening Ceremony, is it?” to an outburst of collective laughter.
There was a pitch-side gentleman using a microphone (relayed through the public address system) at several points during the afternoon. He may well have been highly entertaining and informative – he was certainly loud – but sadly none of us in the stands will ever know because his words were totally indecipherable. At the outset this was just disappointing but as time passed it became progressively irritating.
I could go on. I could mention the fact that, certainly in the West Stand, the first blast of the referee’s whistle started not only the match but an immediate and constant flow in every direction of human ant-like traffic … presumably off to visit the toilets, queue for food or drink, nip outside for a cigarette, whatever. I estimated afterwards that the constant interruptions to our view of the pitch caused by those in the rows around us, and indeed those thronging about on the stairways, often spending minutes at a time standing and chatting amongst themselves with their backs to the action, had caused me to miss as much as ten percent of each game. For someone who had come to Twickenham for one reason and one reason only – to watch the rugby – it was extremely frustrating. I have been debating over the weekend as to whether I am just an old fuddy-duddy who is out of touch with the modern game, or else have a fair point. My telephone conversation this morning with a long-time England supporter pal (he proudly boasts of having seen every England home game since 1967) produced an unsolicited but hearty endorsement for my view that the quality of the Twickenham experience has been progressively deteriorating over the past two decades.
In contrast during a recent visit to Toronto I was taken by my host to a night-time baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre. The presentation was sensationally good – the paying customer/fan was clearly the top priority and no expense had been spared in making the match day experience special. The massive high-definition television screen continuously displayed video footage, player statistics … all kinds of promotional material … and stadium announcements were concise, slick and always enhanced the play – somehow the sound quality seemed intimate, i.e. quite different to the Twickenham equivalent which resembles someone doing his best to shout through an amplified megaphone. The food and drink facilities were outstanding. I was truly impressed. It was all light years ahead of anything I’ve ever experienced in the UK and I was told that such excellence is the norm for top sporting venues all over North America …’
One detail in the announcements made yesterday confirms that my decision is the right one.
It appears that all England’s group games will commence at 8.00pm in the evening.
This is a final nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned.
In normal circumstances, I begin suffering ‘bed withdrawal symptoms’ if I attempt to stay up past my 9.00pm bedtime – which would be about half-time in these RWC matches. The prospect of staying up until well after 10.30pm, in order to witness the whole game and then travel home is a bridge too far for me.
See here for links to two broadsheet reactions to the RWC announcements: