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Just the ticket: why rugby union needs to keep an eye on the clock

Wearing 10: Kurtley Beale makes a break during the Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane in 2012.

Wearing 10: Kurtley Beale makes a break during the Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane in 2012. Photo: Getty Images

You can still get tickets to see Australia’s best chance in 50 dog years to win a Bledisloe Cup match. Riding a wave of Tah love, Sydneysiders have the chance to see a once-in-a-generation event either way, whether it’s a Wallabies win or New Zealand’s 18th on the trot. The X-Factor has been selected. Don’t hold back, go to the website, choose from about 15,000 remaining seats. Take your family. It’ll only set you back … ah right, here’s another item to add to #OtherThingsThePoorDontDo. In fact, if former Sydney University rugby club treasurer Joe Hockey had slapped an excise on Wallabies ticket prices, nobody could say it wasn’t progressive.

Ticket prices to most premium sporting events are as scandalous as an NSW politician taking a bribe. That is, they hardly raise an eyebrow, and rugby oughtn’t be singled out. Whether it’s league, AFL, cricket, football or any big sport, the public has been beaten to a pulp over the past two decades and now assumes the position. It’s a global phenomenon. At the museum of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street in London, there’s a display on inflation since the 1950s. The prices of a bus ticket, a litre of milk and rent on a flat, most goods and services have all gone up by factors of eight to 30. The price of a top-league football ticket has gone up by 300 to 500 times, outstripping the inflation rate more than tenfold.

Most English Premier League clubs get away with it, and could even get away with more, such is the demand. But in a worrying number of Australian sporting events, the price mechanism has gone amiss. The ugliest sight at a big event is empty seats. A match as anticipated and historic as the Bledisloe Cup opener should fill the Olympic Stadium, but it won’t. Why? Well, if you want to go with one friend in Category A seats, you will pay close to $400, including mandatory booking fees and the agency’s so-called cost of sending you your ticket by email. For your night out, that $400 will include your train or bus fare but not your $9 beers and your $6 pies. If you want to take a child, you must pay the full freight of $179 (plus fees), as there are no child seats in the best sections. Or, you could choke it right down and take your family (of four) to Category C seats, high in the upper tiers or around the corners, for $282. Or you could go with the really poor families into Category D, where you might as well be watching from the Goodyear blimp, for just $200.

For the true believers, paying $400 for two seats is chump change when it comes to witnessing history – even if that translates to more than $10 per minute of rugby. At the game, you will be growing poorer as fast as Gina Rinehart is growing richer. This gets close to why most of the rugby fans I know, who might otherwise have been helping to fill the stadium, will be watching on TV. They would be happy to pay big dollars to watch a game like this. They would be happy to pay to watch the schools, sub-district and lower-level rugby they flock to every weekend and get to watch for free. Rugby must be the only sport where thousands of followers will assure you that the schoolboy and suburban version is an infinitely more exciting spectacle than the professional version. Scots College parents, for instance, think they are watching a team better than the All Blacks every weekend.

Yet for every one aficionado who will be going to Homebush, there are hundreds who will prefer to watch the Test from home. They drive cars, they even drive them to the western suburbs, they’re that rich. It’s just that they aren’t keen to pay to watch scrums being packed and re-packed, injuries being tended to, kicks being lined up and taken, referees discoursing to front rows, or players simply pausing en masse to take a drink. All while the clock keeps running. They just aren’t keen to pay such high prices to watch 38 minutes of play.

The rule changes for the National Rugby Championship, altering the points for penalty goals and conversions, and several other abstruse matters, may or may not have the desired effect on cynical play, may or may not be adopted by the International Rugby Board (and pigs may or may not fly), and may or may not reduce the impact of referees on results, but in spirit they show a code that is waking up to the 21st century. They have been made in response to public petitioning. Rugby, or at least Australian rugby, is listening. As the fourth-rating football code, it has no other choice.

Ewen McKenzie’s selection of Kurtley X. Beale no doubt has nothing to do with staving off the leaguies or jazzing up the Wallabies’ style of play. It’s certainly a tough call on poor Bernard Foley, the Ed Cowan of Australian rugby. But if Beale’s selection were influenced by those crowd-pleasing factors, then all the better. You would almost pay to watch him. Maybe just not quite as much as is being asked.

Australian rugby is doing the right thing, growing a pair of ears. What it needs now is to grow a thumb, and stick it on the stop button when the ball is out of play. The AFL fits 80 minutes of play into 130 minutes, and gives the public value for its money. Rugby league and football keep the ball in play and stop the clock wherever possible. For many of those who are not travelling to Homebush, three words could redeem rugby and make those ticket prices more justifiable: Stop, The, and Clock.

41 comments

  • Hear, hear on the amount of time wasted. What else can be said about scrum re-sets but aaarrgghhh. And one of my pet peeves is the amount of time players take to kick penalties and conversions. Aaron Cruden is one of the biggest culprits. I don't think refs actually enforce the time limit rule for penalty and conversion taking. Yes, I am frustrated by the time wasted as per the article, but I will be there at the game this Saturday ... and go the Wallabies. And here is a suggestion for a rule change for conversions. If a try is scored anywhere between the corner post and say 25 metes in from touch, the scoring team should be given the option of taking the conversion from anywhere between the touch line and 25 metres in (and not directly in line from where the try was scored as is currently the case). This encourages and rewards tries by giving the scoring team a greater chance of picking up points for the conversion.

    Commenter
    Rugbyfan Jakarta
    Date and time
    August 15, 2014, 10:23PM
    • Every time you walk by a shop or pub and the rugby is on the players are either standing around, there is an injury, a scrum, a place kick, just usually nothing is going on. It is the truth. When a game breaks out great. Malcolm is 100% correct.

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 16, 2014, 12:15PM
  • -Kicking itself is a good thing for rugby union and rugby league. Good-kicking is a skill-set, and breaks up defensive patterns. If all kicking is eradicated in rugby union, you will just turn the game into rugby league, endless hit ups, and no contests for posession, rugby unions point of difference, actual real contests for posession. And if the defence is unsure if the 5/8 is gonna kick the ball, it creates uncertainty in teams defensive patterns, rather than predictable hit ups "rugby league", where the defence is waiting. But high balls, field goals are exciting. Very few rugby tests have endless field goals anyway. But I reckon field-goals should go 2-points, but not to 1 point. A good field-goal s a skill-set, and should be rewarded.
    $400 bucks for a top seat, good luck getting the basses paying that, when it's for free on tv.
    Must be plenty of north shore types who bleed wallaby gold $$, enough to want to pay that. Hard to believe demand is there for fans willing to pay $400 bucks for a seat. So much for cost of living rises lol, by some on the North Shore.

    Commenter
    Noel
    Location
    Westmead
    Date and time
    August 16, 2014, 12:09AM
    • Predictable hit ups? how about predictable collapsing scrums, games won by endless penalties, and boring phases?

      Commenter
      paps
      Date and time
      August 16, 2014, 8:09AM
    • It is $180 for the best seats at Bledisloe not $400. The article was talking about 2 for $400 with ticketek charges.

      Still way short of NRL GF $330 for A class and $250 for origin this year.

      Commenter
      bigdel
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 16, 2014, 9:49AM
  • In the case of tonight's game it's not about the money, it's the fact that they are playing it in 'Social Siberia'. If it was played at the SFS they could charge a huge amount more for the premium tickets and easily still have a sell out........higher total dollar gate takings and a sell out crowd......it's crazy but it just might work....

    Commenter
    Heartland
    Date and time
    August 16, 2014, 7:59AM
    • All big games in Sydney in whatever code are played at Homebush. Too bad if you need to travel an extra 20 minutes. There is 30 x the corporate facilities of the SFS (which the ARU rely on) hence the fact that many people attending at "invited".

      Commenter
      bigdel
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 16, 2014, 9:51AM
    • The decision to build at Homebush is indicative of the historically inept planning that has plagued Sydney since it was created. Homebush is a terrible place to get to, and there's nothing there once you're out there. I'm no fan of Melbourne, but I'd much rather pay for a flight and hotel to watch a game there than put up with the soulless graveyard at Homebush.
      With a massive development going on at Barangaroo, the state govt should make it a requirement of the casino license that they must include a 60000 seat covered football stadium onsite. The taxes from pokies would pay for it in a year, and us "supporters" would finally have a world class venue in a world class location.

      Commenter
      Doug
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:08AM
  • Nice tie to Hockey #MrInnerCityLeftieNowButI'mActuallyFromTheNorthShoreOrEasternSuburbs

    Took a long while to work out the point of this article

    Commenter
    Nick
    Date and time
    August 16, 2014, 8:10AM
    • Why don't we set up a competition that doesn't require teams to fly 12,000 miles to play their opponents.
      Is not stuck 100% on pay TV, does not stop for a complete month half way through, does not end in July in the middle of the winter.
      Why don't we set a a competition that does not require the national team to be rolled out 15-20 times a year to pay the bills.
      That has more than one team in each state (good luck growing the game NSW, as long as you support the Waratahs.
      Actually how about something really radical, why don't we do what the other three codes do, you know the ones we use to compete with until they left us behind.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      August 16, 2014, 8:16AM

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