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Figures Show Most Rugby Fans Still Giving The Bum’s Rush To Watching Europe’s Elite

As anticipated, the Champions League final attracted massive interest with an estimated 60,000 ticketless fans making their way to Madrid last week where Liverpool beat Tottenham. In rugby, though, as Robin Davey notes, few fans are buying battered old cars to drive to Grenoble to watch the Dragons.

It’s not only among the Brexit brigade where they are cool towards Europe, it’s much the same when it comes to rugby fans according to figures which have just been released.

Of 34 clubs, regions and provinces which play in either the Heineken Champions Cup or Challenge Cup competitions, as many as 27 show that attendances for their domestic league matches are higher (in some cases considerably higher) than for games in their respective European tournaments.

Figures have been taken from teams who play in England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Italy and in only seven cases do crowd figures come out in favour for Europe of teams from the Pro 14, the Top 14 and the Premiership.

You might expect the figures for the secondary tournament, the Challenge Cup, to be poor by comparison to domestic tussles. After all, even football’s Europa League fails to stir interest compared to the Premier League.

That’s why Arsenal and Chelsea had to play second fiddle last week to the bigger brother event staged in Madrid.

But in football, the Champions League – the pre-eminent European tournament – seems to sit alongside the domestic leagues without much difficulty.

The interest in Liverpool and Tottenham’s march to the final was huge. Not so, it seems, in rugby.

Figures are most marked in France, a country which traditionally has little appetite for Europe, the majority of clubs often fielding weakened sides there.

Bordeaux, for example, drew an average crowd of 20,547 for their Top 14 matches compared with 13,872 for their European fixtures.

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Grenoble’s average league attendance for the season was 12,719 whereas it plummeted to 7,532 for European matches.

It was rather closer at La Rochelle when the figures were 15,998 and 15,200 while at Toulouse it was 18,224 and 17,781, respectively.

It followed a similar pattern in Wales where only the Scarlets (8,891 compared with 8,443) registered more fans for Europe than the league.

Cardiff Blues averaged 12,702 for the league, taking in the Judgement Day game but 9,267 for Europe, the Dragons registered 9,749 (with the JD fixture counting) compared with 4,503 while for the Ospreys it was 6,812 and 6,049.

The Gallagher Premiership fans in England came down heavily in favour of the league games. Harlequins, for example, attracted an average of 19,312 fans for league fixtures, compared with 8,536 for Europe.

At Newcastle it was 9,116 and 6,750 and at Northampton 15,397 as opposed to 11,362.

At Gloucester the figures were 14,378 and 12,466, Bath 18,361 and 13,340 and Bristol a much more marked 16,347 with only 8,474 for Europe.

In Scotland, Edinburgh bucked the trend. They attracted an average of 15,504 fans for Europe and only 6,832 for the league. It was the same at Glasgow, but a narrower margin – 7,527 compared with 7,351.

In Italy it was close with Benetton drawing in 3,380 for the league and 3,326 for Europe and for Zebre it was 3,040 and 2,033.

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Only in Ireland did the figures come down in favour of Europe, hardly surprising since supporters of their teams love European games and even travel away in their thousands.

Munster, for example, enjoyed an average attendance of 23,732 for Europe compared with 13,205 for the league while Leinster pulled in an average of 34,385 supporters for their Champions Cup games with 17,084 on average turning up for Pro 14 league matches.

And while on the subject of attendance or audience figures, it seems to me that the BBC would draw far more than their satellite rivals if only they could show more of the leading sporting events.

Take last Saturday, when on the same day it was the Champions League final, the Premiership rugby final, the Cricket World Cup, the Derby and the French tennis championships and in the early hours of Sunday the Anthony Joshua world heavyweight title fight.

Not one of them was on the BBC, who seem to have given up on staging anything of great importance in the sporting world, with the exception of rugby league and women’s football which were both shown last Saturday.

In Wales, the BBC lost their contract to show the Pro 14 rugby matches last season, losing out to newcomers Premier Sports.

It’s all about money, of course, with the BBC unable to match their satellite rivals with their dedicated sporting channels.

But many will be wondering what on earth they pay the licence fee for, when so much of their favourite sport is denied them.

It’s particularly galling when audience figures would be so superior on free-to-air.


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