Ravenhill reigns at top of PRO12 attendance table
Ulster may have been pipped to the RaboDirect PRO12 trophy by Leinster last season, but in terms of the growth of rugby, Mark Anscombe's side emerged as the tournament's undisputed pace-setters with a whopping 24.6% increase in attendances at Ravenhill.
Small wonder they are pushing ahead to complete their new 18,100-capacity stadium as quickly as possible.
That dramatic increase compares favourably with an overall decline of one per cent in England's Aviva Premiership.
Those figures were revealed by former Scotland and British and Irish Lions full-back, Andy Irvine, at yesterday's launch of the 2013-14 RaboDirect PRO12 in Belfast.
Speaking in his capacity of chairman of the PRO12, Irvine highlighted the tournament having provided 29 of the Lions squad that returned triumphant from Australia last month.
As team manager of the 2013 tourists, Irvine was particularly well-placed to evaluate the contribution of those players.
And he was able to produce facts and figures to uphold his assertion as to the PRO12's quality.
"We can look forward to this coming season with a lot of confidence," said Irvine.
"Our competition is in good shape. Last year our match audiences were up 4.3 per cent. Now that may not sound a tremendous amount, but relative to the Aviva, which was down one per cent, it's not a bad result.
"The attendance in Ulster was up an incredible 24.6 per cent, in Cardiff 22.8 per cent, Glasgow 13 per cent. Our TV audiences are up 800,000 to 12.7 million and our social media platforms are growing very rapidly. All these signs are very encouraging."
Urging the participating teams to continue providing entertainment he said: "What really matters is what happens on the field of play and the RaboDirect PRO12 is producing a really exciting and enduring product and the players, the coaches and everyone involved deserves to be congratulated.
"In last year's competition 536 tries were scored – almost four per game (52 more than in the previous season).
"We must not lose sight of the fact that the game has to be a good spectacle otherwise it's no fun to play and no fun to watch.
"We're very fortunate that in this competition we embrace four different countries, four different cultures.
"The Aviva can't offer that and the French Liga can't offer it. Compared to other competitions we have a much greater proportion of international players."