|Photo: Colleen McCloskey|
Now that the Eagles home portion of their Americas Rugby Championship schedule is done it's time to talk about the attendance at both of the matches. When talking about attendance it's always a glass half-full or glass half-empty way of thinking. There will be some that will always think of the negative and there will be some that always have a sunny outlook. We hope to cut down the middle and share both sides.
In total, roughly 9,000 fans attended in total. 3000 showed up in San Antonio while 6,000 showed up in Austin. For those looking at the positions that is 9,000 more fans than were showing up to rugby at this time of year in America to years ago. Last year attendance was higher but the ARC was new and the U.S. were facing teams with better recognition in Argentina and Canada. Both of those matches were expected to be the two most high-profile matches for the Eagles of the 2016 ARC and indeed they turned out to be that.
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Neither Uruguay and Brazil are marquee match-ups. Even neutrals with only a limited knowledge of the game can tell the branding difference between Uruguay and Brazil and New Zealand. Additionally, there is some element of match fatigue. Americans fans aren't accustomed to having five or six home matches are year and if they are going to travel for a match it's going to be one of the traditional summer matches against a Tier I nation or a match like New Zealand vs. Ireland. Throw in that Austin hosted a match last year and there was always going to be a newness element that wasn't there.
All of that said, there were some disappointing elements of the two matches. A lot of fans in Texas have made noise about how they are an emerging rugby hotbed. 9,000 fans over two weeks is certainly a good showing but at the same time you have to wonder if turning out in California, Colorado, Utah, or even Arizona would have done the same. If the Eagles showed up to Utah and Arizona it would have put them in newer markets (Utah has hosted before but it's been a long time). Texas works from a logistical point for South American teams but at the same time spreading the love around (smartly) to other rugby hotbeds isn't a bad idea.
Overall, again, this is 9,000 fans that showed up that wouldn't have a few years ago. The ARC is never going to break the bank and there is a question of whether they events pay for themselves but these are matches the Eagles desperately need and building slow support over time is never a bad thing.
One thing that has been mentioned and is worth discussing is whether or not the Eagles should establish a "home base." It doesn't make sense to play the summer tests all in the same location, they should continue to be spread out, but when the ARC isn't the biggest draw to begin with and the tournament is more about development, why not have all of the matches in San Diego or San Francisco every year. It's going to give the Eagles some stability in terms of training and it will help for planning purposes. However, this is might be a discussion for another day.