ERC chief executive Derek McGrath has defended the low number of tickets sold for Saracens' HEC semi-final at Twickenham.
ERC chief executive Derek McGrath has defended the low number of tickets sold for Saracens' Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham.
An expected crowd of 25,000 will leave Twickenham Stadium two-thirds empty on Sunday – despite the attraction of stars such as Jonny Wilkinson being on show.
Criticism has been made that tickets have been overpriced for the semi-final, with a lack of atmosphere set to damage the occasion, but McGrath has denied that the cost of attending the match is too high.
“There is a certain disappointment but we have to prepare for all eventualities,” said McGrath to the Guardian.
“If Ulster had beaten Saracens in the quarter-finals we'd have been in the Aviva Stadium and it would be packed out. If Leicester had beaten Toulon it would be Leicester v Saracens. Can you imagine if we'd already chosen a 20,000-capacity venue?”
“We've looked at whether we should have home-and-away semi-finals, as the Champions League do. We also looked very hard at choosing venues well in advance but we need to give home country advantage. What if you picked Marseille and Twickenham as your semi-final venues, then had Stade FranÃ§ais and Sale qualify?”
“Would we like to have a packed-out Twickenham? Of course we would, but we didn't impose Twickenham on Saracens, it was their choice, along with the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby.
“It's not as if we're doing something without being consultative or supportive. The reason people aren't coming in numbers is not because of price or promotion. You could go and hand tickets out to people but that's not something we believe is appropriate to this event. It's not something our shareholders or the clubs would thank us for.
“We're looking to build what we believe is an elite and premium event. We don't believe price is the issue.
“It's not right to say we would expect this semi-final to be watched by 40-50,000 people. When you look at the semi-finals we've had in England the average crowd is about 25,000.
“Saracens's high-profile games at Wembley are entirely different events, sold over a much longer period of time with other attractions and a different fan base. This game is about supporting their club to become the best in Europe.”