The ACT Brumbies could risk losing almost $100,000 if they earn the right to host a Super Rugby final at a time when the club is struggling to convince fans to attend games.
The Brumbies attracted just 6311 people to an impressive bonus-point win against the Pretoria Bulls on Friday night, which kept them at the top of the Australian ladder and edged them close to the play-offs.
Brumbies average crowds for this season are now at the lowest point in the club's proud history, with just 8332 turning up to each of the seven games so far.
Coach Dan McKellar has pleaded with fans to back his team, saying the Brumbies don't deserved to be punished for Australian rugby's off-field issues in recent years or discontent with Super Rugby administrators.
But the reality of low crowds figures is financial losses are unsustainable for the club's long-term future. The Brumbies have won six games in a row, lead the Australian conference and are playing an entertaining brand of rugby. Fans, however, haven't jumped on board the bandwagon, prompting concerns about the financial impact.
The top Australian team will host a final in the first week of the play-offs. Under Super Rugby regulations, the home side has to pay the visiting team $75,000, made up largely of gate takings. But a low crowd would force the Brumbies to dip into their own pockets.
"We're doing all we can from a rugby point of view. We said at the start of this year we want to buck the trend in terms of crowds for Australian teams," McKellar said.
"We want the Canberra community to get on board. Sport is a competitive industry and financial viability is pretty cutthroat. If we continue to play in front of 6000 or 7000 people, the Brumbies won't be around for too long. That's the harsh reality.
"We want people out there supporting us. I understand there have been some issues in Australia over the last few years. But we feel like we are bucking the trend with how we're playing. We're winning with a style that resonates and in a good position on the ladder. I'm not sure what else we can do on the field."
The glimmer of hope for the Brumbies is that the excitement of finals, a last-round fixture against the Queensland Reds and potential play-offs game will garner support.
The Brumbies will play the Japan Sunwolves in Tokyo next weekend before a derby against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney and then the last game of the regular season against the Reds in Canberra.
The crowd challenges are mirrored across the competition. New Zealand teams struggle to attract large attendances to games against overseas opponents, despite their on-field dominance.
South African crowd numbers are down and Australian teams are fighting to gain traction, which has been affected by the demise of the Western Force and the Israel Folau drama.
"It's disappointing we haven't got the local support at the moment, for whatever reason," said Brumbies chief executive Phil Thomson.
"I think the team's justifying through their performance that they deserve to be playing in front of a good crowd. Wouldn't it be great to have people back supporting the game again?."
BY THE NUMBERS
Average crowds: 8332 (2019), 8391 (2018), 9887 (2017), 12,135 (2016), 12,456 (2015), 12,662 (2014), 14,257 (2013).
2019 numbers: 8500 (v Rebels), 8583 (v Chiefs), 12,122 (v Waratahs), 7541 (v Lions), 7567 (v Blues), 7698 (v Sunwolves), 6311 (v Bulls)