Saints buck attendance trend
September 23, 2010
A record crowd attended the London Double Header at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the season © Getty Images
Northampton are confident they can continue to set the pace both on the field and off it in terms of attendances.
Unbeaten league leaders Saints sold out their opening two Premiership fixtures at Franklin's Gardens against Leicester and Bath, the second of which was on a Friday night. But it has not been a similar story elsewhere, with Gloucester attracting their lowest regular-season league crowd for five years - just under 10,000 - when they hosted Leeds Carnegie earlier this month and London Irish drawing just 8,267 for their game against Gloucester on Sunday - a figure lower than anything they attracted for a league game last season.
Champions Leicester were 6,000 short of a 24,000 Welford Road capacity for Exeter's visit 11 days ago, while barely 6,000 watched Saracens beat Sale Sharks at Vicarage Road the same weekend. Estimates on a general attendance fall-off are put at about 12% and leaves Premiership Rugby some way short of their goal of attracting higher average gates than football's Championship by 2015 that attracted an average of just under 18,000 last season.
So far this season, the average Premiership attendance is 9,100 - not including the London double-header at Twickenham that attracted 75,000 - while last weekend's total crowd figure for six matches was down almost 18,000 on the corresponding weekend a year ago.
Saints, whose next home game is against Premiership newcomers Exeter on Saturday week, are pulling out the stops in an attempt to nudge the 13,500-mark for a third successive Franklin's Gardens encounter.
"At the moment we are in a virtuous circle that reflects the work being put in by all departments at the Saints," said Northampton chief executive Allan Robson. "Jim Mallinder (rugby director) and the coaches have the team playing an exciting brand of rugby, and the players have put in a massive amount of effort to win our first three games, two of which were against our fellow Premiership semi-finalists last season.
"We knew before the start of the season that we had nigh-on record numbers of season tickets sold. Despite this, there are still a few thousand tickets to sell every weekend, and our marketing and community teams have worked very hard to make sure that these tickets are sold.
"We have established strong partnerships with our local media and through schemes like CashBack, our community team are able to give local rugby clubs, schools and charitable organisations the opportunity to earn money by coming to watch the Saints play.
"This scheme continues to go from strength to strength, with hundreds of people coming every game. So we are certainly not resting on our laurels, and although we are delighted with the way the Northampton public has responded to us, we are working hard to try and make sure that Franklin's Gardens is full for our next home game against Exeter."
In response to some negative reports, Premiership Rugby went on the offensive to underline what they see as the league's plus points. "The total number of tries scored has risen to 78, an increase of 56% compared with last season and the average number per match is now 4.33," read a statement. "London Wasps' flying winger Tom Varndell leads the way with four tries to his name already and is being hotly pursued by his Northampton Saints rival Chris Ashton, last season's Premiership Player of the Season, Schalk Brits of Saracens and Leicester Tigers' Scott Hamilton.
"Yet this wave of attacking rugby is still producing close and dramatic finishes with Aviva Premiership Rugby living up to its reputation as the most competitive league in world rugby. Already this season 44% of matches have finished with a winning margin of seven points or less, meaning the tension for fans is going right down to the final whistle."
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Red cards, uncontested scrums, end-of-season wobbles and schoolboy errors - the Monday Maul looks back over the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures includes puffed players, dismissed players and training in the snow
The new European competition is now a reality and rugby will be better as a result. John Taylor looks at the deal as the dust settles