10 May 2024

Where are the Brumbies fans? It remains a mystery

| Tim Gavel
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The crowds are not turning up for the Brumbies at GIO Stadium. Photo: File.

It is unsettling to see the sparse crowds at Canberra Stadium these days for Brumbies home games.

Soon, the stark reality of the drop-off in crowd numbers will become uncomfortably evident: the Brumbies will take on the Crusaders in a Saturday afternoon game.

The 18 May game at Canberra Stadium will provide a backdrop to celebrations marking the 2004 final between the two sides at the same ground.

On that night, it was standing room only, and even those tickets were scarce, as the Brumbies beat the Crusaders 47-38 in front of a record 28,758 fans.

When the two sides run out on 18 May, the fan numbers will be a fraction of the 2004 crowd.

The decline in numbers has gradually occurred over the years.

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Why passionate people, rusted-on supporters in 2004 are no longer taking an interest, let alone going to games in 2024, has been the subject of numerous surveys and discussions.

Survey responses from fans raise issues such as the high cost and standard of food, car parking, ticket prices, the scheduling of games at night in the middle of winter, frustration over the referee’s interpretation, the lack of free-to-air television coverage, and the switch from Fox to Stan on pay-for-view.

The Brumbies have done their best to resolve issues that are under their control, such as ticket pricing.

I know of some fans who were season ticket holders but have walked away and now take very little interest.

The reasons range from a change to their season ticket holder seating to the refereeing and the 21 laws at the breakdown.

It’s obvious that the Brumbies have no control over refereeing decisions and what fans perceive as pedantic penalties. They also have no control over the lack of free-to-air television coverage.

Another reason former fans give is the lack of connection between the rugby community and the team, but I think this reason for turning away from the Brumbies no longer holds.

The team is very much in the community and visiting schools, and more contracted players than ever are playing in the local competition.

A few years ago, though, I was told that school kids didn’t even recognise the Brumbies players.

Brumbies coach Steve Larkham overseeing training. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

Brumbies coach Steve Larkham overseeing training. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

However, I know for a fact that coach Steve Larkham is more determined than ever to ensure that the team has meaningful interactions with the community.

Beyond the Brumbies, many people relate the Wallabies’ woes to the lack of support for Super Rugby.

The dropping of the ACT from the Brumbies’ name was a turn-off for some, but there are no excuses now as ACT has returned to the front of the jumpers.

When talking to some people who were once die-hard supporters, the conversation often turns to negative comments about the style of play.

Yet the game against the Hurricanes two weeks ago was one of the best I have witnessed in recent times at Canberra Stadium.

What more do fans require?

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The game itself has changed since those glory days for the code, with defence improving markedly due to a shift away from the all-out attack of yesteryear.

It was once stated that if the team was winning, the crowds would come, but apparently, that is not enough.

In the early days, the Brumbies shifted a game from Bruce to Manuka amidst concerns that they wouldn’t get a crowd to cover costs. For the fans, lining up on the sidelines in a throwback to club rugby was the ultimate connection and provided a building block to the eventual 20,000-plus crowds at Bruce.

So, does Super Rugby need to return to ground zero with a competition game at a smaller venue?

It’s a suggestion that may not be feasible, given the corporate and sponsorship requirements. However, club rugby in Canberra played on those smaller grounds, is thriving with a genuine connection with supporters.

Canberrans have shown they are prepared to head out to GIO if there is a sense of occasion. At the moment, a sense of occasion is better created by the Raiders. They consistently draw bigger crowds than the Brumbies.

Brumbies versus Fijian Drua at GIO Stadium. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

Brumbies versus Fijian Drua at GIO Stadium. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

There is light at the end of the tunnel for rugby. The code will benefit from hosting the British and Irish Lions next year, followed by the men’s World Cup in Australia in 2027.

The Lions game against the Brumbies has generated a sense of something special, as evidenced by the strong ticket sales for a midweek game next year.

The quest for the Brumbies is to find out why these rugby fans aren’t returning for the remaining eight games a season at Canberra Stadium.

Catch the ACT Brumbies taking on the Crusaders at GIO Stadium on Saturday, 18 May, at 2:35 pm. Tickets from Ticketek.

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Number one reason is the poor location and quality of the stadium.

Stats started to drive how teams play and they promoted more kicking. It turns out that stats don’t lie. If you kick the ball 70% of the time 80% of the fans stop attending games.

Rugby has shot itself in the foot with the elitist decision to show games on pay per view. Why was such a decision made?
The administrators live in an echo chamber of the alumni of a handful of private schools, and they quite like it. They don’t really want the hoi polloi coming because they’d have to associate with the common muck.
Rugby has chosen a brand positioning for the 1%, but unfortunately you can’t sell tickets to rugby games at a price premium like RM Williams boots or the yearly fees at Joey’s.

DrMcPuffnStuff9:19 pm 12 May 24

Though in Australia soccer and Aussie “Rules” are far more popular, world wide rugby union is 2nd only to soccer. Rugby League “world Cup The Brumbies are doing their best to relate but media in Australia prefer to talk about suburb v suburb pre-season than state v state or test matches. If I have to miss a match I have no fear of accidentally hearing the score before watching a replay days later. Rugby Australia is lazy and 9 is doing nothing worthwhile to promote the game or support Stan’s excellent coverage.
GIO though not modern provides great views and ample parking, though slow, much better than Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Scheduling home games the same weekend as Raiders also deters families who would go to both. I could go on and on. Tim

I stopped watching the Brumbies when they continued to give away unnecessary penalties and the coaches did nothing to bring more discipline into the game. The Brumbies were regarded as the most ill disciplined team in the competition.

Hurricanes game was my first in years, what a ripper, just under 9000 there. Took a mate, another two said no mainly due the perceived terrible job RA (or should I say NSW and Q’ld Rugby control of it and its insane decisions such as the Eddie Jones debacle) is doing, or has been doing for many years, has turned people off. Stadium is ok, easy to get food and drinks and parking is doable (want to try other places eg Sydney. So the RA mismanagement is missing from your Survey, pity

Perhaps the Kane Orr comment about the complexity of Union versus League is close to the mark…

At my high school, where I have coached rugby and have frequent conversations with kids about football codes, I observe that many of the kids find it difficult to master the rules.

Recently, a quality representative player in Year 12 confessed that he struggled with Rugby Laws, implying that he had trouble with the cognitive demands. He said he preferred Rugby League.

Teenagers also talk openly about the money on offer and the career opportunities. Rugby League signs up the rep players on academy contracts from 15 years old.

The easy answer is, families have to be careful with their money. Electricity is the main problem which can blamed on politicains of any colour. 60 years behind with nuclear energy/

Tim, don’t worry as the Brumbies management have it sorted. If attendance numbers look bad, just don’t report them (every other sport does in the ACT, just not the Brumbies- https://www.austadiums.com/stadiums/gio-stadium/crowds) and if your finances are broken, just ignore the Corporations Law and don’t hold and AGM so you don’t have to release your financial statements (still waiting for 2023 accounts-https://brumbies.rugby/about/about-us/governance/publications). See they have all the problems sorted and are managing this well.

Margaret Freemantle10:56 pm 11 May 24

A new stadium is needed like yesterday. Sport is important for Community. That won’t happen watching it on TV. Copy the Cowboys with a decent stadium in the city and the fans will return

Margaret Freemantle10:51 pm 11 May 24

100% ! Think marketing is key we ARE a Global game. The profile needs to be lifted. A stadium worthy of a Global game ought to have been up and running by now.

Sorry what were you saying? I must’ve fallen asleep after you said brumbies lol 🏉🥱😴

Andrew Sutton9:07 pm 11 May 24

Tim, we have walked away this year, having been members of the Brumbies for over 20 years. The main reason is that rugby as a game just does not entertain as well as AFL or to a lesser extent the NRL. We have attended 3 AFL games interstate with money that otherwise would have been spent at the Brumbies.

Apart from the game itself, the stadium is cold, unwelcoming and just no longer fit for purpose.

We have also lost interest in rugby in general because it is no longer on Foxtel rather requiring us to obtain yet another streaming service that we just don’t want.

I would say that I am still a keen fan of the Brumbies as I think they are a standout club in the game and would return to being a member should rugby become more attractive generally.

Samuel Elliott5:16 pm 11 May 24

It’s amazing that that the author doesn’t even know it’s on FTA… It’s on tonight.

James Savoulidis3:56 pm 11 May 24

It’s not just Canberra, Super Rugby attendances across the board have nose dived. The Waratahs averaged 33,000 a game in 2005, whereas this year they are currently averaging 12,000. No one cares about Rugby anymore.

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