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Donkin's World: Sour Chariot

...In short the full Twickenham package is crap and overpriced. The established supporters have known this for some time and they're voting with their feet...

Richard Donkin issuesd a tyimely warning to the Rugby Football Union.

The beer was the same, trains and buses much as always and the stadium hadn't changed at all for the England v New Zealand game at Twickenham. But the crowd had changed.

You could see it had as soon as we started our sing song on the bus. They were the same old songs, but instead of people singing along they just carried on chatting or playing with their iphones, saving their contributions no doubt to boo decisions like people do at football matches.

It doesn't seem to matter to Twickenham. It was another full house: 80,000 odd people willing to part with 50 and more for a ticket. Most businesses would call that a result. Yet all is not what it seems.

Tickets are allocated as always through the rugby union clubs that form the grass roots of the sport. That's how I get my ticket. But I know through the grapevine that a lot of clubs were sending their tickets back this year. Demand had fallen within the core of clubs on which everything else rests.

So tickets were put out through the agency system. There were plenty of takers among the smooth city types who would otherwise have watched the match in their sports bars or in pubs, or gone shopping instead.

These people don't sing, apart perhaps from one line of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. When we reached the stadium there were the anthems and everyone sat down for the match. But within minutes some people were trotting off to the bar to appear ten minutes later with their plastic containers brimming with lager.

The game lasts 80 minutes yet some people will spend a good chunk of it at the bar buying overpriced drinks. Everything is overpriced at Twickenham: the pies, the chips, the programmes, the beer, the whole lot.

After the game the option is to clear off or have a beer in one of the many draughty bars designed to sell as much beer as possible in the shortest possible time. Cattle pens are better protected from the elements.

In short the full Twickenham package is crap and overpriced. The established supporters have known this for some time and they're voting with their feet. That will be the only pre-Christmas game I attend.

There is so much that the marketing people could do: print song sheets, get rid of the ridiculous Land of Hope and Glory, make Jerusalem the English anthem (controversial but no more so than the Scots singing Flower of Scotland) http://donkinlife.blogspot.com/2008/03/rugby-anthems.html, make the bars more comfortable, lower ticket prices, get rid of the silly fireworks and manufactured special effects, play with cotton shirts again, play games on a Saturday afternoon instead of suiting telly schedules, and generally get rid of all the gimmicks.

A good start would be to ensure that the marketing team is led by someone who understands the game and who can align delivery of the product, for want of a better word, with the traditions of the game. The RFU has become too focused on profit. As this presentation by Dan Pink demonstrates (it really is worth sparing 10 minutes to watch it) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc , when you unhitch the profit motive from purpose, you have a problem.

Unless the Rugby Football Union understands this danger, there may come a day when the core support has abandoned the international game, rather like some purists abandoned Manchester United in soccer. It won't happen overnight but it will happen. It can take a lifetime to build a franchise and a few years of bad management to ruin it.

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