MURRAYFIELD does not need revamped but a plan does need to be developed to ensure that Scottish Rugby’s match-day revenue continues to grow and underpin the business, according to Chief Executive Mark Dodson.
Match-day ticket income has grown 50 percent to £23.7m since 2019, and now accounts for 35 percent of Scottish Rugby’s overall turnover of £67.9m, while a series of high profile concerts in the last financial year also pushed up revenues.
Concern has been expressed that underinvestment in the national stadium during the last decade has left the facility, which was built over 30-years ago, tired, unattractive to modern consumers and unable to maximise its full potential, but Dodson insisted that he and his team are on top of the situation.
“We’re always looking at the ticketing situation, but it has been an engine for growth,” said Dodson. “And if you look at the way people consume entertainment now, whether it’s for Taylor Swift or whether it’s for Bruce Springsteen, if you look at the price of the tickets for major, major events there seems to be no elasticity in it, there is no guide, it keeps going up because the events get bigger and people want to spend their money in that way.
“What we always want to do is have a baseline ticket which people can afford and then we have price points going up from there, but in line with every other country across the rugby playing world we are trying to move the dial on ticketing because it is what pays for everything else. It is one of the levers we can pull to make sure more revenue can be invested in the game.
“It is one of those things we have got to keep a mindful watch on. We have to realise that our competitor set is growing. It is less about what the stadium can offer, it is the number of price points that we can offer. The lack of hospitality here compared to, say, Twickenham or even the Millennium Stadium, reduces our ability to be able to charge more for not just a ticket but price points of a simple meal, a complicated meal, a designer meal, fine dining.
“If we had those levels … and I think you saw at the World Cup where you had 15 to 18 percent hospitality tickets and places … we’ve got to drive that forward. So, in that respect, I think we’ve got to keep an eye on what our offering and proposition is, but if you look at the core aspect of a day at Murrayfield, it is still super-attractive.”
“Capacity is not an issue,” he added. “I think we’ve got plenty of seats. It is what I said before, I need more price points, I need to bring people in who can spend more of their discretionary income not just on their ticket but on dwell time around the stadium, and that’s where we are focussed.
“I think if somebody asked what your preference would be between an 80,000-seater stadium or a 67,000-seater stadium with another 10 to 15 percent hospitality places, it would be the latter.
“We’re about to look at that, we’re about to look at the stadium, what’s going to be redundant in the stadium, what we have to do. There is a conditioning report being done and once that’s there we’ll have to review it with the Board about how we develop the stadium.”
Dodson defended Scottish Rugby’s categorisation of £2.5m expenditure on pro player wages as capital investment in its recent Annual Report, and promised that this cost will reduce in the future.
“That player wages issue was a hike and now it is starting to decline away,” claimed Dodson. “If you have the money we spent on strategic investments like women and the pro teams, we have to capture that outside of operational expenditure.
“[But] we lost three teams in England so 100 players came on the market. It suppressed wages. Before that, wages were climbing inexorably. France is still climbing inexorably with the new TV deal. Japan is climbing inexorably. England is no longer climbing inexorably.
“We have to make sure that we contain the money we spend on players until we can deliver that to ‘operational expenditure’ rather than ‘strategic investments’.”
Meanwhile, John McGuigan, who took over as Chair of Scottish Rugby Limited under a new governance system in the summer, explained that a 10-year strategy is being developed to provide the game with its ‘North Star’ which will define all aspects of how the game operates over the next decade.
“The bedrock of rugby is the club and yet the club game faces into some really difficult pressures in the years to come,” he acknowledged. “We’re competing with lots of other sports, we’ve got a narrative at times that might pose questions for parents on whether rugby is the right sport for their children to enter, we rely on a huge voluntary commitment from people, and we’ve also got an increased pressure on finances [in terms of] the cost of getting stuff done. I know from going round different clubs that these pressures are very evident on a day-to-day basis. So, I’d like to say thank you for everyone who does volunteer, everyone who plays and encourages rugby to take place at a local level, and the contribution that makes to every other aspect of the game.
“People shout quite loudly at me, particularly on social media, about ‘do I hear that message?’ Can I just confirm that I very much do, I take it very seriously and I will spend time in the future working through how we continue to support and play our part in making sure we have a strong foundation for every other aspect of the game.
“Another area that is really important because it is the definition of how we make sure in the eyes of others that rugby is successful, is how we develop talent and we know we’ve got work to do there. It is very much at the top end of my priority list, to make sure we develop talent at all levels of the game, to ensure that those who have got the most talent get the opportunity to represent Scotland, and all that brings including the financial benefits to the rest of the game.”
“We’re going to write a 10 year strategy for the game based on what we see in other sports and what we see happening across the world. We’re going to engage as many people as we can because we want common ownership. I want us to be in a place where we can all sit down and explain why we think this is the strategy for Scotland. It’s our North Star and it will define our operating plan, our budget, our organisational structure and the types of people we need to employ in the future in order to make sure Scottish rugby continues to be a fantastic sport and one we can be proud of.
“So, just to finish, if I haven’t been to your club – and I haven’t been to as many clubs as I would like to have been – can you please invite me? I’m happy to come along and hear your perspective in terms of how we as the SRL Board should continue to do our part in growing the game.”