Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Ulster’s perfect start right on the money

Ravenhill is fast becoming the place to be

Ulster's winning start to 2012-13 is doing more than the boosting the mood of their supporters — the knock-on effect has seen the province’s coffers given a significant financial shot in the arm, too.

The forthcoming Heineken Cup Pool 4 match against Northampton Saints at Ravenhill on December 15 is sold-out, as is the PRO12 inter-pro clash with Leinster six days later.

For anyone who does not have a ticket for either or both of those, but wants to see a game at Ravenhill between now and 2013, the options are Ulster Ravens v Cardiff in the British & Irish Cup on Saturday, December 8 or Ballymena v Rainey in the First Trust Senior Cup final on Wednesday, December 12.

Attendances thus far in a season in which Ulster remain unbeaten have seen a significant increase, the tone having been set before a ball was kicked in earnest with 7,500 and 7,124 turning out for the two pre-season warm-up matches against Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons. Not bad for fixtures with nothing at stake.

The story since then has been more of the same, with an attendance of 8,108 for the PRO12 opener against Glasgow Warriors, followed by 10,397 for Munster’s visit a fortnight later.

The match against Connacht drew a crowd of 10,052 and with Ulster taking a 100% record into the Heineken Cup the attendance when Castres Olympique rolled up was an impressive full-house 11,451.

The next home match was against Edinburgh, who are not the biggest crowd-pullers. Nevertheless, with Ulster continuing to sweep all before them, some 11,078 saw fit to make their way to Ravenhill for the Scots’ visit.

To put those figures in context, any one of those attendances eclipses the combined gates at all of Northern Ireland football’s Danske Bank Premier League any Saturday afternoon.

Rugby on the up and up? You’d better believe it.

With work on Ravenhill’s redevelopment now started, new stands will be in place at the Aquinas and Memorial Arch ends of the stadium by summer. The final phase will see the existing main grandstand demolished, rebuilt and fully functional by the start of the 2014-15 season, by which stage the stadium’s capacity will have risen to 18,100 — with an option to add to that if required.

Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan was keen to point out that the plans are in keeping with the realities of the game’s progress rather than grandiose dreams which could end in tears. And the case he made was irrefutable.

“Our sponsorship and our season tickets sales are up by more than 25% in each of the last two years,” he stresses.

“People have laughed at the capacity we are going to and have said we’ll never fill that. But each of our last three home games have been sold out and when tickets for the Leinster game went on sale, they went within an hour of general release to the public.”

“We stand every prospect of having at least half our games sold out this season, with demand exceeding supply,” he forecast.

But in addition to being able to accommodate over 50% more specatators than is the case at this stage, the chief executive highlighted other massive pluses in the overall equation.

He adds: “It puts us in line for hosting fixtures in Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, it allows us to host ‘A’ internationals which we can’t do currently, it allows us to host a Rabo(Direct PRO12) final which requires a capacity of 18,000 and it allows us to host a home European Cup quarter-final.”

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