27 April 2021

No excuses! It's time to fill Canberra Stadium and back the Brumbies

| Tim Gavel
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Brumbies and fans

The Brumbies have done everything they can to attract crowds back to Canberra Stadium, including an open training session heading into the finals series. Photo: Brumbies Media/Rian Murphy.

There’s been a theory floated over the years that to financially break even, the Brumbies and the Raiders would need crowds over 10,000.

So far this season, the Brumbies haven’t broken that 10,000 benchmark, with crowds hovering around 9,000. It’s hard to see how that’s financially sustainable.

Despite this, the Brumbies continue to be a dominant force in world rugby, with the team brand globally admired.

Credit needs to be directed towards coach Dan McKellar and CEO Phil Thomson, given the unique issues faced by the club in the past two seasons.

Brumbies in training

Brumbies in training. Photo: Brumbies Media/Rian Murphy.

Bushfires, smoke and COVID-19 have hit the team hard and kept many fans away, yet the Brumbies remain a dominant force.

The hope is that supporters will reward the team for their resilience with a strong turnout on Saturday night.

It may be aspirational given the battle faced by the code nationally to return to the standing it once occupied in Australian sport.

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Rugby Australia this week released a statement touting an increase in television ratings, crowds and registrations this season. A return to free-to-air television, with a live game every Saturday night, has been a boon for the sport, as has the lifting of COVID restrictions.

But in a general sense, in Canberra, we are still a long way from the so-called glory days.

In the records of the biggest crowds at Canberra Stadium, the Brumbies occupy the top two positions. The 2004 final against the Crusaders attracted a crowd of 28,753, and the game against the Waratahs in 2005 drew 27,040 to the game.

It was the hottest ticket in town.

So why haven’t the crowds returned this season on the back of the team winning the Super Rugby AU final against Queensland last year?

Brumbies' crowds

The Brumbies have not managed to draw large crowds to Canberra Stadium despite considerable effort and great on-ground play. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The Raiders have shown that fans will go to Canberra Stadium to watch sport: 20,000 turned out to watch them play Parramatta last month.

Mind you, it took the Raiders a generation to get the crowds back after Super League. And that was followed by several disappointing seasons sprinkled with some success, but not enough to garner interest.

The Brumbies have shed the conservative nature of the Jake White era and the team is playing open attractive rugby.

Perhaps there exists a hangover from the White era when, despite making the Super Rugby final, the Brumbies struggled to find a crowd.

Complaints about the high price of attending a game have been responded to. You can take a family of four to the game this Saturday night for $40.00. That’s much cheaper than taking a family to the local movie theatre! And the Brumbies significantly reduced the price of membership for the season to encourage fans to return to the game.

It could be a reaction to the constant negative publicity surrounding the game, with many who make a living off the sport only too happy to sink the boot in criticising everything from the administration to the playing style.

Much has also been said over the years about the disconnect between the Brumbies and the grassroots rugby community. I do believe this is very much historical though, with the organisation far more engaged with community rugby than it was in the past when grassroots support seemed to be taken for granted.

Tom Ross

One of the local recruits to the Brumbies squad, Tom Ross. Photo: Brumbies Media/Rian Murphy.

The argument that not enough locally bred and nurtured players are in the team has been blown out of the water as well.

The sight of Brumbies players turning out for local club teams in the John I Dent Cup has lifted the standard of the competition and generated expectation.

To be frank, there is no reason why fans shouldn’t be flocking to Canberra Stadium.

Excuses for not attending are running thin with the team playing well, they have made it into the finals, and they have engaged extensively with the community.

Everything that was deemed to be a hurdle is in the past.

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The author needs to recognise that union has slipped entirely from the public mind. Want to know where the brumbies fan of old are? They were at Manuka last Friday night.

I would happily go to the game if it was possible to see it all. However, a very large percentage of the time I am left looking at the backs of the people in front of me. They stand up as the ball gets close to the try line, ensuring that only they (and perhaps the ref) can see the try being scored. Then there is the constant procession of people going to buy drinks – again obscuring the view, pushing past my feet and often spilling their drinks on the way back. I don’t see the value in this experience at all.

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