United deflate World Cup plans
April 4, 2013
England played at Old Trafford in 2009, but there will be no rugby union there in 2015 © Getty Images
Wednesday's announcement that Old Trafford will not be joining in the 2015 Rugby World Cup jamboree has left the organisers scrambling to relocate three matches but more worryingly to work out how to make up the shortfall in ticket sales.
Three high-profile games at Manchester United's home would have been expected to attract sell-out gates of around 75,000 a time but , understandably, Manchester United have decided the potential damage to the playing surface was unacceptable.
While there are no shortages of possible alternative stadiums, none will come close to matching that capacity, certainly outside Twickenham and Cardiff.
The organisers' filled one slot straight away by moving across Manchester to the Etihad Stadium, a venue not originally even one of the chosen 18. But the capacity there is just under 50,000, resulting in a loss of 25,000 seats and substantial revenue, and reports in the Times today indicate it is a one-game deal.
There are already concerns at the levels of ticket pricing needed to meet financial guarantees given to the IRB and the loss of Old Trafford can only add to these worries.
Time is also against the organisers as the conditions of the successful bid means stadiums have to be signed, sealed and delivered 30 months before the start of the tournament - in others words, any day now.
The football authorities cannot help as they will not know the availability of their venues until much nearer the time. Clubs also share Manchester United's concern at the damage even one rugby match will cause to their pitches relatively early in the season.
And non-footballing options are thin on the ground. The Olympic Stadium in Stratford has a reduced post-Olympic capacity of nearly 55,000 and while Wembley is a possibility, the demands on its fragile pitch are already considerable and the annual NFL bash, which is increased to two games from 2013, falls during the tournament.
There is much uncertainty and serious doubts whether bid assurances of close to three millions tickets sales can now be met. What seemed a nailed down money-spinner a few months ago is now looking as if it might be a close run thing.
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Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media
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