From our last blog, it’s clear that many past or current players from the Blues region and elsewhere have no problem engaging with Cardiff. Supporter engagement is understandably a different matter given the historic demographic of Welsh club rugby-you supported your local club and generally hated all others. Until the advent of social media, this hatred was generally expressed in the form of banter and good humoured in nature.

Against this background, the creation of five new regional entities in 2003 was not going to go down well. Several different models for combining existent sides were proposed, but disenfranchisement was built in to the system-whatever model was adopted, it would have disenfranchised someone. The Darwinian solution finally agreed upon was founded upon the consistently strongest clubs in Welsh rugby (Cardiff, Llanelli, Newport, Neath and Swansea) over its previous hundred plus years. Other hotbeds of rugby from the Rhondda, Ogmore, Garw and Llynfi valleys were represented by the newly constructed entity, the Celtic warriors, but average crowds of under 2,500 for league games (just under 3,500 thousand if European games are included) saw the unloved region fold after one season.

The rupture of 2003 has therefore created deep seated wounds. Some teams continued to dine at the top table, albeit increasingly frugally and infrequently, others didn’t. Those that did had independent financial backers who knew that they would never get a return on their investment. Though the monied investors are well known, it should not be forgotten that the ‘ordinary Joe’ supporter also made a financial commitment. For example, many people whose disposable wealth was significantly less than a Peter Thomas or Martyn Ryan bought shares in Cardiff Rugby Football PLC, which became Cardiff Blues Ltd. on December 4th, 2014. These small investors also knew that they would never get their money back, and the £100, £200 or £1000 they contributed often represented a far greater percentage of their personal wealth.

Though there is no evidence that we are aware of that the crowds at the ‘one true region’ (or perhaps, more accurately, ‘one true surviving region’) are consistently any bigger than the ‘hybrid farce’ that is Cardiff, it is often flagged that our attendances are in decline and that an important metric upon which the Blues have failed is in terms of their ability to attract fans from throughout the wider region.

Some characters on Twitter have attempted to rubbish the fact that success is what attracts casual fans-which reveals a dramatic lack of insight in itself-but you only need to look back at Cardiff’s runs in both the Amlin and the EDF cups in 2009-2010 or the numbers accompanying the Llanelli Scarlets to Dublin last Saturday for clear evidence that this is palpable nonsense.

Converting the occasional walk-up fan to the regular supporter is where the challenge lies, and where we do clearly struggle. So, in this blog, we’re going to think about how that could be done more effectively.

There are at least three audiences to tap from Cardiff Blues’ perspective-those from the City and its immediate environs; those from the wider region; and those who attend matches at the Principality Stadium. Let’s think about each of these in turn:

  • The City

While we’ve yet to be made privy to the full results of the extensive survey recently conducted on behalf of the WRU and the regions by Two Circles, we do know that it shows that Cardiff’s crowd is mostly drawn from two postal regions. Though this will be read as confirmation of its failure to reach out to the wider region, it is also of massive importance in terms of where you start in terms of building support. The Harvard Business Review tells us what any successful business man knows-that acquiring a new customer is 5-25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one-so you have to start from the position that the City is currently the Blues main market and don’t mess with that fact. Leaving aside the emotional arguments, this is why the branding of the side is of far more importance than some would seem to think; it’s a massive financial consideration as we’ve previously outlined.

The population of the City is in fact easily big enough to fill CAP on its own on a regular basis if the marketing was correct and the ‘match day experience’ not the lack-luster affair that it often is at present.

There are several potential groups to target in this respect. Families are clearly one and ‘catching them young’ has to be a major policy. But look, for example, at where the Family Stand is at present- in completely the wrong position, stuck behind the posts under a low roof and with low elevation. What message does that send? Young supporters once in the ground need to be centre stage, they need to see and hear the game so that hopefully they can feel the game and be part of it. Regardless of how many times Bruiser walks around the stand, it feels like and is an afterthought.

Next, there are many older (in terms of supporting the team, not necessarily in age) supporters that we’ve lost as a result of the misadventure of CCS and the continued dilution of Cardiff rugby heritage under the Blues ‘family’ mantra. Positively and regularly targeting those lost numbers is something that requires a lot of thought. ‘Welcome back’ events are something to be considered and tried; they might include access to the bar areas that we traditionally ‘ours’ before they became the possession of corporate hospitality.

Third, Cardiff has a massive untapped student population; though the club offers a discounted season membership and individual match ticket reductions to students, this is no way sufficient gesture to win the hearts and minds that are a major part of the City’s economy. A £3 reduction in the stand or a £4 reduction for the terrace simply isn’t going to cut it. While much of this population is transient, others will stay in the City after graduating; some may return to live in other parts of South Wales- but positively engaging them as students will mean that they’re likely to stay engaged for life.

Fourth, Cardiff is a thoroughly cosmopolitan City, yet the crowd at CAP is predominantly white and no thought has seemingly been given to including ethnic minority groups in the ‘family’ in the way that football has attempted to do so.

Finally, clubs like Saracens have fantastic schemes for including people with autism and learning disabilities and other disabled groups in what happens at the club. Do Cardiff Blues even have a policy for trying to engage with people with additional needs? We somehow doubt it.

  • The Wider Region

Affinity has to be cultivated, it cannot be commanded (the primary reason why the Celtic Warriors did not work and the reason why any new pre-fabricated regional structure also will not work). It is therefore completely understandable why fans of Pontypridd or Merthyr may never be a (Cardiff) Blue. That is an informed choice that those fans are fully entitled to make-just as they did when the Celtic Warriors were formed-but the regional team’s job should be to try and make the decision not to engage as difficult as possible-at present, it’s easy.

Part of that is in our hands-rather than spending hours on Twitter battling with characters whose main wish in life appears to be to see everyone fail, we should be making every effort to welcome fans from the broader region. Several suggestions have been made on social media recently regarding offering discounted season and match tickets to regional clubs; they’ve often been met by responses along the lines of ‘that’s been tried and it didn’t work’. Even if that’s true, engaging hearts and minds is a process not an event-we need to offer such initiatives every season, regardless of take up, and in a meaningful way; being able to get £5 off a Cardiff season ticket won’t pull anyone in and long-term cultural change takes years to effect.

For major games, perhaps some free transport could be arranged as an incentive for people to attend and for them to be met and greeted by bodies such as CBSC and CF10 when they do. We’d even buy them a beer!

This is a big ask, but maybe match kick off times can be coordinated so that you can watch your local and regional team-and the moment, they are in competition with each other. Taking games (such as the BIC fixtures) around the region is another strategy.

All these ideas are insufficient in isolation, but they all signal a desire to be inclusive. We’re sure that much cleverer marketing people can come up with more substantial ideas, and if so, grand-let’s buy into them and implement them consistently –not just try them for a season and then conclude that they’ve failed.

At the end of the day however, we can only create the conditions for engagement-it’s ultimately up to others as to whether they want to be part of regional rugby. What we can’t do, moving forward, is to allow them to say that they never had the chance (or a second chance).

  • The International Crowd

This is in some ways more challenging than engaging the wider region. International crowds and club crowds used to be one and the same; they are now completely different. There are folks who never miss an international match, but who otherwise follow Cardiff City, for example. But does the WRU routinely provide Cardiff with a breakdown of Principality ticket holders who come from the city and region? Is any effort made to engage with these bods? Why not invite them gratis to a Cardiff Blues match and really look after them when they do? Many will say ‘thanks for a nice day out’ and never return, but some will stay engaged-so we have to try. Although Judgement Day is generally not terribly well liked, robbing us as it does of ‘proper’ home fixture each year despite the financial benefits, it does tell us that there is another, largely untapped audience out there.

Getting people interested and keeping them interested is therefore the name of the game. In one of our earliest blogs, we told the story of the Green Bay Packers NFL side. In that blog we said that Lambeau Field, the home of the Packers is:

‘the third largest NFL stadium with a capacity of 81,000 although the population of Green Bay is only about 105,000, a third the size of Cardiff. Regardless of team performance, every game played in Green Bay has been sold out since 1960. Despite the Packers having by far the smallest local TV market of around 600,000, the team consistently ranks as one of the most popular in the NFL. They also have one of the longest season ticket waiting lists in professional sport; 86,000 names long, more than there are seats at Lambeau Field.’

The Packers are often used as an example of what can achieved in terms of effective sports marketing. As we wrote, what works in Green Bay is an unashamed use of a strong brand-it’s everywhere in the stadium, and everywhere in the promotion of the team. Despite the cynicism of the anti-regionalists, Cardiff already has that branding but is afraid to use it as it does not wish to further upset the disenfranchised or the WRU. Counter-intuitive though this might seem to some, bigging up that branding rather than the meaningless Blues has to be seen as a key asset, rather than as a barrier, in the development of the future region. At present, we regularly hear ‘The Blues are all my kids have ever known, so the history isn’t important’- but that is a self-fulfilling prophecy when they have been supporting a brand too timid to capitalise on its own unique rugby provenance.

Children from all the member clubs should be wanting to play for Cardiff as their goal and to know in whose shoes they are following when they do. The work of bodies such as CAVC demonstrates what can be done in this respect, but this needs to be the case everywhere rather than being an isolated, though splendid, example.

We’ve had the pleasure of building the Cardiff rugby archive over the last six months and putting together the film for the RFC 140th Anniversary dinner in June-and guess what? Both contain Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues material because we see the history as being a continuous, joint and evolving one. The archive is also not just looking back-it’s being proactive and making sure that the history of Cardiff rugby both now and the future will be properly collected. So, rather than being run by dinosaurs, it’s being developed by people who have an eye on the future as much as the past.

Cardiff Regional Rugby can and must change, and taking a broader group of spectators along on our rugby journey has to be a key part of that change. However, as a wise man with a significant career in sports development and management at a national level has recently pointed out, the disenfranchised are a small group as compared to the disinterested; the radicalised disenfranchised are even smaller in number. Both the disenfranchised and the disinterested are challenging targets, but even the most inexperienced marketing executive would realise that any necessary re-engineering at Cardiff cannot be based on ignoring the already engaged or on extreme minority perspectives.

The model for us must be the Green Bay Packers, not the Celtic Warriors; a programme of development which, like the Cardiff Capitol Region City Deal, is designed to bring success both to the City and the broader region. We clearly need to evolve and to be more inclusive, but let’s take the time to get this right.


  • Mon, 05/06/2017 - 18:55 reply

    Great article. The current match day experience leaves me cold, so I haven't renewed my season ticket as yet. The uncertainty of a possible move must also be clarified. The way the 'takeover' was handled left everyone unsure of the future.

  • Tue, 06/06/2017 - 05:45 reply

    You make a most interesting point on attracting the student population. When I taught in New Zealand I went to see the Crusaders play the Highlanders in Dunedin. This is the home of the University of Otago and one stand was full of ‘scarfies’, the student followers of the game.

  • Tue, 06/06/2017 - 13:26 reply

    So many excellent (dare I even say, 'common sense'?) suggestions, much of which had previously been mooted, kicked around and prodded before. An excellent article. Thanks.

    I would like to offer a slightly different, slightly less entrenched view than some supporters though, despite this offered view of mine NOT exactly resonating with my own actual feelings or experiences. Let me explain.

    Personally, immediately we re-branded as Cardiff Blues, I felt far less connected with the club. I couldn't help it? I wasn't objecting through some sort of political stance. It was purely an emotion that I simply could not ignore? And supporting a team is ALL about that emotional buy-in. I still came, of course. For a time. But it DID feel different. That was my own personal experience.

    But, you know what? I accepted it. Yes. Reluctantly. And yes, I DID come less and less, tailing away until yes, I stopped coming altogether for a few seasons. And I certainly never did an away trip during that time. But I accepted the view that something clearly had to change (consolidation of available funds, players and…who knows…who knows…fans??? {seems I was as much of a fantasist as others on that last point, but anyway…}) to enable ‘us’ to compete on an ever-more-global scale.

    But I did fall out of love, and I did stop coming altogether. This all goes to support your claims, and I guess in some sense or another might resonate with one or two others supporters? Perhaps. It is anecdotal, after all. But, all that said, I do have genuine, wider empathy for fans who have even greater reason to feel disenfranchised? I mean, If I found it hard…??

    However. I want more than anything - even MORE than MY personal, and if I’m honest, really quite deeply held preference of returning to being Cardiff RFC, with our old City badge, playing in Cambridge Blue & Black (deliberately capitalised) hoops, a world-recognised 'brand' that graced this club and City (and, yes, this wider 'region', like it or not) for so, so long - I want...even more than that...I want the future of professional rugby to be strong in this City.

    I began to love the club again. I 'learnt' (never a nice process, but I think the correct word?), I LEARNT to start loving Cardiff Blues? And I started to come again. I also see excellent, young supporters near where I stand, who obviously, and totally, and passionately buy into the Cardiff Blues thing. They are our future, not relatively old fans like me? And the future IS more important than MY personal wishes. The world is bigger than me. This club is bigger than me. But this club was (is) a big part of me.

    That, for what it's worth, is just one variation in what is no doubt a spectrum of views and - critically - EMOTIONS about this subject.

    Tl;dr. I want us to go back to the RFC tradition and push THAT ‘brand’ into the modern, club era. But, I accept that the landscape has changed and that YOUNGER supporters, DISENFRANCHISED supporters (whether ethnic or club rivalry), potential NEW supporters (eg, student), might (MIGHT?) find it easier to buy-in to a rebranded Cardiff Blues ‘region’.

    But please do not take Cardiff out of the name, because I will find that especially hard to accept. Whatever we are called, or whatever colours we have to wear, or crest we have to brand, we HAVE been proudly producing and exhibiting heroes and legends since 1876.

    We thank ALL the suburbs of the City as well as all the other towns & villages who have produced those legends. We thank them.

    But Cardiff haters…? No need to thank us for inventing the three-quarter system.

    My point? The future is vital. But. Our history really IS important.

    Sorry for banging on a bit.

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