International Rugby
IRB play down attendance concerns
ESPNscrum Staff
November 10, 2010
Fans watch on surrounded by empty seats, Ireland v South Africa, autumn international, Aviva stadium, Dublin, Ireland, November 6, 2010
There were plenty of empty seats at the redeveloped Lansdowne Road last weekend for the first Test in the stadium © PA Photos

International Rugby Board chief executive Mike Miller is confident the low attendances at last weekend's autumn internationals were not due to an over-exposure of Test rugby.

Ireland's first game at the recently redeveloped Lansdowne Road against South Africa failed to draw a capacity crowd with 20,000 seats left empty while 17,000 tickets went unsold for Wales' clash with Australia at the Millennium Stadium.

The Rugby Football Union sold out England's game against New Zealand, although tickets were still available a week before the Test. Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty recently warned the IRB that international rugby risked going the way of one-day cricket.

"We would hate to find there is such a proliferation of international matches that their importance is lost," he said.

Miller admitted it was too early to know the real reason for the drop in attendances but he believed it be merely a brief setback. "The game has grown phenomenally over the last 10 years. Is this a blip or a trend? I don't think it's a trend," said Miller.

"Only the fans will decide if there are too many matches but what we have found over the last number of years is that everybody wants more - the players want to play more, the fans want more, sponsors want more, television want more.

"I wouldn't agree with his (McCafferty's) opinion. There are no more international games now than before. It is always a balance but if you take Wales as an example they had a huge debt on their stadium which they have been paying off. How do you do it?

"The deal between the RFU and Premiership Rugby calls for an extra match which they share the proceeds of 50-50. What is too much? Only the fans will tell you if it is too much. They certainly weren't totally interested last weekend but most sports would die to have 53,000 people in the stadium."

Miller has already seen signs that rugby's growth will accelerate in the coming years off the back of their successful campaign for Sevens to be accepted into the Olympics.

The sport is now on the school curriculum in the Moscow region of Russia while the United States' Olympic broadcaster NBC has, for the first time, bought the rights to the Rugby World Cup.

On the back of that investment to broadcast the sport on terrestrial television, Miller believes it is inevitable that rugby will follow football's lead and take their World Cup to the United States. "It is a question of when, not if," he said.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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