As sport slowly resumes, it's become glaringly obvious how integral real life supporters are to the experience of sport. Yet as sports organisations plan for the return of fans, it seems there will be hierarchy in the kinds of supporters allowed back to the stands.
Today's Guardian features an exclusive from Gerard Meagher on the RFU's plan to seat Twickenham should we be lucky enough to see the return of international rugby in the autumn.
Meagher writes that the RFU have decided that the first 28,000 tickets distributed for England games in the era of social distancing will be allocated to 'corporate contracts'. He writes that in a world of two-metre social distancing, roughly 10,000 fans can be admitted to Twickenham. In the case of one-metre social distancing, roughly 35,000-40,000 patrons could enter enter. In both cases, the majority - if not all tickets - would go to corporates.
In normal times, tickets for big international matches in rugby are split between the clubs and the corporates.
As part of lucrative endorsement deals, the RFU would have arrangements with its corporate partners that include match day tickets. At a time of such financial uncertainty in the sporting industry, all sporting organisations are eager to keep their corporate partners happy. It's good business practice but it is terrible for the spectacle of live sport.
The irony here of course is that the corporate atmosphere inside Twickenham has long been a talking point for players. Brian O'Driscoll brought it up ahead of Ireland's match against England in February.
Of course there is huge corporate in all of rugby these days and that is the reality,” he said.
“In the Aviva there are question marks about the atmosphere because true fans are not getting an opportunity to go to games and roar on their teams, and it’s no different at Twickenham. It is what it is – you’ll have fans in their Range Rovers in the West Car Park. If that’s their thing, brilliant – it’s part of the history of the Six Nations.
“As a player you look over enviously thinking: ‘There they are, enjoying their champagne and canapes, and here we are, butterflies and stomachs rumbling, and we’ve got to go out and play a game.’”
This is a worrying vista for all sport: empty terraces and packed corporate boxes. In this world, live sport will effectively become like a Ryanair queue where the priority queue can board and the regular punters are never allowed to board the plane. It's decision the GAA will have to grapple with for its winter All-Irelands. Who will get the tickets for these matches when there's reduced seated? Clubs or corporates?
By way of disclosure, as someone who works in sports industry, I have attended matches with corporate tickets. Big business and sport are intrinsically linked, and can benefit each other, especially in challenging times like this. But it's essential that big sports organisations don't forget their grassroots supporters as they reopen their terraces.