Wales Set to Welcome Sea of Red back to Cardiff Ahead of Six Nations Clash Against Scotland and Huge Boost to the Welsh Economy
On February 4th, 2022, on the eve before Wales commenced their Six Nations title defence, Neath RFC faced Swansea in a commemorative fixture that marked the 150th anniversary of the first ever recorded club rugby football match in Welsh Rugby history. This time it was Swansea who took the spoils, beating the Welsh all blacks 21 – 17 (the corresponding result in 1872 ending in a well-fought draw), yet both teams demonstrate how club rugby continues to remain vitally important to our local communities and the enormous legacy and contribution our historic clubs have given to the growth of our national sport.
After what can (hopefully) only be described as a false start to their Six Nations campaign following heavy defeat in Ireland, Wales will be hoping to get back to winning ways in front of what will undoubtedly be a boisterous full capacity crowd at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. Here at the Welsh Sports Association, we cannot wait to welcome Welsh Rugby fans back to the Principality Stadium for what will be the first home Six Nations
It is no secret that preparations for hosting Six Nations matches in Cardiff have been far from straight-forward, as it was not until the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, announced the Welsh Government’s roadmap to Alert Level 0 and an end to the restrictions that saw no more than 50 spectators able to attend outdoor sporting events over the Christmas period. The easing of restrictions came as a huge relief to grassroots sports clubs who have not only struggled to stay alive throughout lockdowns caused by the pandemic but are also set to feel the impact of rising fuel prices and costs of living. Club Treasurer of Ynyshir Albions, Cei Mason, said about the news that:
“We are really pleased. Match day income is absolutely vital for us to be able to run the club, as the cost of running a grassroots club continues to rise. I’m sure many other clubs in Wales will feel the same way and will welcome this news”.
The Chairperson of Clwb Rygbi Nant Conwy, Glesni Jones, also described the importance of spectators:
“The crowd support makes a big difference to the players on the field and it brings a sense of community back to the club, it has been quite a struggle with the planning, preparation, loopholes sent to us and risk assessments, but it’s brilliant to have everyone back “.
Among all the uncertainty around whether fans would be allowed back into the stadiums, the Welsh Rugby Union had to take seriously the decision whether or not to move their home fixtures across the River Severn to England, where there were no restrictions on crowd numbers, in an attempt to generate some kind of income from the tournament. The WRU estimates it would have lost around £6.5 million if they had been forced to stage the Scotland match behind closed doors.
The WRU Chief Executive Steve Phillips emphasised that:
“The difference a crowd makes to performance on the field is immeasurable and a number of our senior players have been very vocal about the positive impact a capacity crowd in Cardiff can make”. “The atmosphere supporters bring to Principality Stadium is unrivalled, and this news will be greatly welcomed by coaches and players.”
He also added that, given the restrictions in place throughout the Christmas period in Wales, consumer confidence in purchasing tickets has been adversely affected given the uncertainty and admits that they are in an unusual position playing catch-up to sell remaining available tickets.
The Six Nations provides an enormous boost to the Welsh economy across the south-east Wales region and beyond, as local pubs and rugby clubs are filled to the roof with paying punters carrying the hopes of a nation. Throughout what is generally a quiet period of the tourism season, and even more so after the huge losses brought by the pandemic, the vital impact that mass sporting events like the Six Nations have on local businesses and the trickledown effect on the wider sporting economy cannot be understated.
The Principality Stadium’s city centre location makes it easily accessible to Cardiff’s retail and hospitality businesses who benefit so greatly from the wealth of travelling sports fans, particularly those from Scotland, France and Italy who are more likely to spend than day-trippers from England. Its distinctive design makes it instantly recognisable both to people visiting Cardiff and to tens of millions of television viewers globally. An independent report by ECONACTIVE found that between 2006 and 2016 the Principality Stadium welcomed an average of 770,000 spectators through its gates each year, meaning more paying visitors enter its gates in an average year than any other attraction in Wales. It provides the nation with one of the greatest multi-purpose venues in Europe, and the WRU continues to reinforce the importance of maintaining the Principality Stadium as a ‘beacon’ in attracting major events, highlighting its economic benefits as a ‘major attraction in Wales’.
As Cardiff looks forward to welcoming over 74,000 spectators back to watch live Six Nations once again, as well as the potential 100,000 fans who will descend on the city centre to celebrate the return of major Rugby internationals in Wales, we look to the huge impact that sport has beyond the well-being boost it gives our nation. The Stadium is ultimately owned by The Welsh Rugby Union Limited, a not-for-profit organisation, whose principal activity is “to promote, foster, encourage, control and improve the game of rugby football throughout Wales”, and are therefore dedicated to supporting sporting activity in Wales (for all levels and ages) rather than providing returns to shareholders or individual sports club owners. In 2016, the WRU invested heavily into the grassroots game and professional clubs after posting a record turnover. The total investment in community clubs increased by 16 per cent from £6.8million to £7.9million, principally due to the investment in the school club hub programme, in digital strategy costs associated with a conscious decision to better promote the community game and facility grants. Investment in the Principality Premiership increased by 14 per cent to £1.6million and the investment in the regions, Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets, increased by 12 per cent to £19.3million. Former head of the Welsh Rugby Martyn Phillips said that:
“We are proud to be able to say that all the group’s revenues have been re-invested back into the game and that investment is at record levels in each of the regional, Premiership and community game, as well as on an overall basis.”
“It is pleasing as the percentage growth in the reinvestment in rugby is broadly tracking the percentage growth in revenues”.
Research by the Royal Bank of Scotland estimated that each Six Nations game played in Cardiff boosts Wales’ economy by more than £20 million. In 2017, they outlined how the Six Nations would generate £52 million of revenue for the Welsh economy; £30 million worth of revenue for Cardiff’s economy; and create over 500 new jobs. In 2018, a report commissioned by Sport Wales found that the sport industry in Wales had grown by 10% to £1,142m in 2016/17. The sport sector was found to out-perform pharmaceuticals, travel, accommodation and textiles industries in Wales. The sporting economy contributed £1,182m in consumer expenditure on sport and generated 29,700 sport-related jobs in the same year.
It is important to remember that if you are heading to the stadium on Saturday, you will need a COVID Pass to prove that you have been fully vaccinated or tested negative for the virus. Wearing a face mask and continuing to follow the guidance where required will ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable day out and get to experience everything our amazing city has to offer! Dewch Ymlaen Cymru!