Belfast Telegraph

Ulster aim to deliver the perfect stage at PRO12 final

By Michael Sadlier

Now the hard work really begins. Having secured this season's Guinness PRO12 final for the Kingspan Stadium, the Ulster squad now have a huge incentive to make it all the way to the competition's shoot-out which will be held on Saturday May 30 at their own ground, with a kick-off time of 6.30pm.

Tickets will go on sale on Tuesday, February 3 and will be available through Ulster Rugby and Ticketmaster - season ticket holders can avail of priority bookings on Monday - with 4,000 allocated tickets being split between the eventual finalists and the game will be shown live on Sky Sports with other broadcast partners to be brought on board.

And with just a week between the PRO12 semi-finals and the showdown for silverware, due to the newly restructured European season, the rationale for having a 'destination final' and naming it in advance was more than compelling for the tournament organisers in order to create a better lead-in time for ticket sales.

The location of previous finals had been determined by the side which ended up top of the pile but, faced with the realities of timing this season, the tournament organisers opted to go out to tender for this campaign's showdown and may continue the trend if it proves to be successful.

Welcoming the securing of the end of the showpiece game, Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan admitted that seeing Neil Doak's squad making it all the way to the PRO12 final would be a massive boost for both players and supporters alike while also praising the efforts to land the bid.

"It's not only a great achievement for those working at Ulster Rugby but also for the various agencies including Visit Belfast who pulled together to win the right to hold the final," Logan said, explaining that the tender process began back in November.

"The important thing is that at the first time of asking, we have entered an international competition and won it. For Belfast it's great because with an 18,000 capacity here there will hopefully be thousands of hotel beds sold... it will have an important economic benefit for the city.

"From a rugby view it's excellent because it gives our supporters and players a lift as there's a guarantee of a final here which we're intending Ulster will be part of," Logan said.

"I've spoken to some of the players and they're delighted. We've also got a significant number of players returning from injury and we've a good run of games now," he added.

The clear hope is that Ulster also nail a place in the final and particularly so after they were forced to relocate the 2013 shoot-out with Leinster to Dublin of all places as the ground then known as Ravenhill was unable to host the required capacity due to its reconstruction. Ulster, of course, lost on that occasion.

"There is a sort of poetic justice in that (getting this final). Two years ago we topped the league for I think 16 out of 22 weeks which would have given us the right to hold the final, we narrowly failed to achieve the capacity and had to go to the RDS, lost narrowly and that was a bitter pill to swallow. Hopefully we can right a wrong or two this season," Logan stated.

The danger is, of course, that two non-Irish sides end up contesting May's final but Tournament Director for PRO12 Rugby David Jordan reckoned that this would not be a major factor in either selling the game as a spectacle or attracting supporters to come.

"Last season Glasgow went to Dublin and they took 3,000 people and I think there will be a lot of interest.

"One of the advantages of having a 'destination final' is that people can start thinking about it now rather than waiting until a week before the event to know whether you're in it."

There has also clearly been a desire to grow and promote the tournament so naming the final in advance is also designed to create an event and something marketable for the tournament, or chosen host club, to row in behind.

"It is a different way of marketing a game as it was before," Logan said before outlining Ulster Rugby's ambitions to use their stadium for other ventures.

"We are in business to hold really good sporting events here, we've had a Gaelic match and a soccer match, we want to hold other big events.

"We want to bid for the women's Rugby World Cup in 2017 and Ireland's bid in 2023 so the more big events we can hold here then the more we are demonstrating that we can attract more."

As for future tenders coming the Kingspan's way in relation to the PRO12 final, Logan made it clear that this season's 'destination final' is very much an experimental affair.

"For the PRO12 it is an experiment and an experiment we intend to make successful, it will that be reviewed to see what the approach will be, should we go back to the old or go to national stadiums or a neutral venue, it is too early to say," the Ulster chief said.

As for the revenue benefit from hosting the final and particularly so after missing out on hosting on a European quarter-final, Logan said: "The financial benefit of a European quarter-final isn't massive, you don't get a massive share of the gate, the most profitable fixture we can have is actually is a Guinness PRO12 semi-final so hopefully we'll have one of those as well as the final."

Jordan added: "It's not just about money.

"It's about creating a spectacle and our tournament advancing and I think that we're confident enough now to be able to select a venue.

"For Ulster to get to the final and play it at their own venue must be a great incentive for them," Jordan said.

Indeed so.

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