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Chiefs need to show good faith and return favour by backing patrons who supported Irish Rugby

Neil Francis


 

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No go: the Aviva Stadium is sitting empty as rugby has been forced into limbo due to the coronavirus

No go: the Aviva Stadium is sitting empty as rugby has been forced into limbo due to the coronavirus

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

'There were upwards of 20,000 Ireland supporters out in Japan paying up to €10k (£8.7k) for the privilege'

'There were upwards of 20,000 Ireland supporters out in Japan paying up to €10k (£8.7k) for the privilege'

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

No go: the Aviva Stadium is sitting empty as rugby has been forced into limbo due to the coronavirus

A patron in a sporting sense is someone who is a paying guest. In the art world it is someone who endorses somebody who they think has talent. A patron saint is a guiding or protecting saint who gives special help from heaven to a worthy cause, place or people.

 

The people who watch The Masters at Augusta are also referred to as patrons. This term has been greeted with derision across the world except for on this island where the paying public at GAA matches are also referred to as patrons - you couldn't possibly point your finger in a disparaging fashion at them now, could you?

On the flip side, in any book I have read or film I have watched about Pablo Escobar, everyone calls him Patrón - or they die.

So, I am not quite sure how we look at the IRFU Patrons Club. A special class of people - they are paying guests, they endorse the skill of the Irish players. They certainly give special help and guidance to the IRFU. As far as I know they haven't murdered anyone yet but you would have to think there is a wish list. You have to keep these people onside!

I remember talking to someone involved in the corporate hospitality industry on Monday, February 24. It was the day after Ireland were beaten 24-12 at Twickenham. The phone call came pretty much first thing that morning. No caffeine to dull the pain. The Italian game at the Aviva on March 7 would not be played.

The message was conveyed with such certainty that the sporting fiver which I normally offer as a wager stayed in my pocket. Sure enough, the match was postponed but the Italians came anyway.

Actors, athletes and entrepreneurs will all tell you that timing is everything. Now the IRFU had at that stage managed to bank the gate receipts for the Scotland and Wales games and picked up all the ancillary revenue streams as well.

The Italian game was also a sell-out and the gate receipts are also in the kitty. I don't ever remember getting any tickets from the IRFU until cold, hard currency had exchanged hands... before the match.

So the Union are cash rich just at this moment in time - but the big Kahuna was also in play and timing and providence went against the Union here.

To help finance the cost of the construction of the Aviva Stadium there was a 10-year debenture ticket sale held in the 2009-10 season.

Even in the middle of a deep recession this was fully subscribed and when the recession softened in and about 2013 and the Championships and victories against serious opposition started rolling in, the Patrons Club really had become the best investment in town.

Time goes by quickly and the Patrons Club debenture tickets were up at the end of 2019 and a new issue was due. Suffice to say that there was huge initial interest and there was jockeying to get on the list. A blank look and a shrug - maybe sir or madame would like to go on the waiting list perhaps?

The new 10-year tickets were launched a month or two before October 19, 2019. The day that New Zealand put 46 points on us in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Tokyo. There were upwards of 20,000 Ireland supporters out in Japan paying up to €10k (£8.7k) for the privilege. The timing and the cost really seemed inconsequential. Many of them had to learn 'Swing Low' when they were out there for the knockout stages.

The cost of the new batch of 10-year tickets was €15k (£13k) a head. It is double if you want to bring the missus or your favourite child. That means you have to earn €60k (£52.4k) gross just to be sure that you have a seat for the next 10 years. It puts the term 'disposable income' into a new bracket. Sales at that stage were brisk!

A 10% deposit of €1,500 (£1,300) had to be paid by October 19 and that would secure your seat. There were three payment options but all of them required a further payment of €4,800 (£4,200) on or before March 31, 2020.

Given what was happening on this island and globally, I cannot imagine what people were thinking as we huddled in our homes.

You could pretty much take it that most people would not go to a match on their own and so it was a big decision for those who left it until March to come up with €9,600 (£8,400) for two tickets and then pay an additional €17,400 (£15,200) or else stagger the payments over a 48-month period.

I cannot imagine the offering being fully subscribed. So whither the patrons?

Article 7 of the Terms & Conditions state that there is a 10-day "cooling off" period but "payment not made before the due dates specified in the payments options will constitute a breach of contract" and this will cause a termination of contract. "In the event of termination no refund of monies already paid to IRFU in respect of the ticket will be made."

This is not a good situation for either the patrons or the IRFU, or for the good of the game in Ireland.

There is no clarity on the resumption of games at any level. The IRFU in fairness have made it clear that anybody that buys a 10-year ticket will get 10 years' worth of matches and so if matches don't start until January 2021 then that is when the 10-year deal starts.

Another aspect of this issue is the age demographic - how many patrons would be in the 'at risk' age bracket? How many would be happy to go to an event that could put their life at risk? You evaluate the investment now with a different set of parameters.

What will a live rugby match with 50,000 to 80,000 capacity become now? What happens now to something we all took for granted? A solution? Maybe there isn't one required and the 10-year tickets are all sold out but I doubt it.

Most people, I suspect, would like to retain their tickets but right now the cost and the uncertainty is prohibitive. Most of these people ponied up in the first instance in the first batch and have made it possible for the IRFU to amortise the loan on the stadium within their covenants.

I suspect that those waiting lists have disappeared as quickly as someone who upsets Pablo Escobar and so the prudent thing to do would be to stagger the payments out by direct debit over two/three years - say €200 (£175) a month - and wait for the economy and people's pockets to recover and give them an option to pay a balloon payment of say 40-50% in three or four years' time.

A public relations exercise in common sense and a prudent way of dealing with a tricky situation for the people who have supported the game financially over the last 10 years. Keep the patrons onside.

Breach of contract? No refund of initial deposit? Qué está pasando, Pablo?

Belfast Telegraph