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The Leader: Ian Ritchie

Ian Ritchie, CEO of the English RFU (Rugby Football Union), on stamping out ticket touts and succeeding where the 2012 London Olympics failed.

We have three major objectives for the 2015 Rugby World Cup: fantastic memories for everyone, success for England and, most significantly, ensuring we use the event to get more people into the game.

I think 2015 is the best opportunity that the game is ever going to have in England. However, we have to plan for it. The biggest pressure is on ourselves to succeed.

The World Cup is the ultimate shop window for the sport and we want to make sure it is a catalyst for more people to participate. The advantage we have over the 2012 London Olympics is that, as a single sport, we can focus all our resources in the same direction. The legacy side of this will be us, hopefully, looking back in 2016 or 2017 and saying there are more people involved with the game than ever before.

Kit Conundrums

Any commercial deal we agree – whether that is TV, kit or a new partnership – what we’re all about, as a body, is investing back into the game. So when you look at the new money that comes in, you have to take into account that it all goes back into rugby union for things like community coaches and new club houses.

I don’t get this idea that people are suddenly forced into buying things they don’t actually want [the RFU was criticised in January for plans to bring out six different England shirts in little more than 15 months]. I believe people buy what they want to buy – it’s their decision. Of course we’ll always review these situations, but we’ll always do what is best for the fan. If they want to buy it, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.

Tackling Touts

We are trying to crack down on secondary ticketing – it is as important to us as it is to any other major sports event – however, it is up to the UK government at the end of the day. We have ticket terms and conditions that prevent abuse of ticketing, and we are lobbying the government to enforce legislation around it.

Our major concern is that fans should get what they’re trying to pay for. They need transparency and to know they are buying what they want to buy. To do this they need to know where the tickets are, where the seats are and so on. This is all about fan protection; I don’t have a problem with secondary ticketing – what we do have to be careful about, though, is how some people are using websites for what is tantamount to institutionalised touting. That is not good for the fan.

London 2012 was a classic example. In that instance, the government actually passed legislation stating that it is an offence to resell tickets on the secondary market at heightened prices – yet here we are having similar issues at the Rugby World Cup.

We had 650,000 ticket applications for one England game, so there is a demand, a wish and a lack of supply. In my view, there will be people who suffer because the government hasn’t taken the opportunity for legislation; the secondary stage we are at now is amending consumer protection law to protect the fans. 

Some people are using secondary ticket websites for what is tantamount to institutionalised touting. That is not good for the fan

Fans or Viewers?

The Six Nations stakeholders as a group, whether it is in consultation with the BBC or other broadcasters, meet to debate Friday night match scheduling – our view is just one of six [there were complaints from England fans because Wales-England, the opening 2015 Six Nations match, was scheduled on a Friday night].

It is the usual trade-off: of course you can see the difficulties for fans getting to a match on a Friday night, but then what will it do for the TV ratings? The viewing figures for England-Wales on a Friday night are fantastic.
Yes, there are going to be difficulties for travelling fans, but how do you set that against two or three extra million people watching the match on TV? Like anything else, it’s a question of balance.

You also have to look at the schedule as a whole, and I think the majority of Six Nations fixtures take place on either a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Another point you have to consider is that fans visit cities around Six Nations fixtures.
They love going to Rome, love going to Paris, Dublin, Cardiff and so on – we certainly want to make sure that is maintained.

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