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.
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.
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?
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.
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.