I recently caught up with my old amigo Iain Campbell who has been Chairman of the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club for the last four seasons. Mirroring the fortunes of Ulster on the pitch, the URSC has gone through difficult times but Chairman “Kimble” is refreshingly upbeat for the season ahead with plans to work closely with Ulster Rugby to enhance the supporters’ experience.
Read on to find out what they have planned.
What are the aims of the URSC this Season?
Our immediate aim is to drive up membership numbers to something like those enjoyed in earlier years – 1,150 in 2006. It is very clear to us that there are two factors that directly influence this.
Firstly, and not surprisingly, the performance on the pitch. Hopefully the promise and progress made under the new management last season will bring greater success this season. Certainly the high profile signings, coupled to the retention of talented players in key positions is cause for some optimism.
Secondly, we are enjoying a much more productive relationship with Ulster Rugby, and this will enable us to fulfil our key role much more effectively, which includes forming a link between the supporters and Ulster Rugby; communicating the views of the supporters to Ulster Rugby; and supporting the team on and off the field.
How are the URSC looking to boost membership?
Well, we now have a permanent information point on match nights. (This is something that we sorely missed in recent seasons, and we make no apology for still banging on about it.) Given this recent development we are now much better placed to have membership packs, merchandise and travel information readily available.
The intention is to act as a focal point for fans’ enquiries – we may not have the immediate answer but we will promise to get one. We have, from time to time, operated a prize draw for fans joining URSC on match nights. With our new arrangements the simple task of promoting such a draw and arranging for collection of the prize after the match becomes more routine, and is something we will probably commit to for all home games up to Christmas.
We are also taking bookings for travel to Connacht, Munster and Leinster from 13th August onwards. Fans wishing to travel can sign up on match nights, pay their deposit and we will guarantee to arrange transport. Other events will be arranged in a similar fashion. We believe this early commitment to events will bring greater numbers and corresponding success.
Another aspect of great importance is the availability of match tickets for the new Aviva Stadium. We will have 40 tickets for each game, available exclusively to URSC members. These are not cheap – we have heard they may be 100 euros each – but while the price may put some off, we consider the greatly reduced numbers will mean that URSC membership will be seen as well worthwhile for getting your name included in the ticket ballot. Basically, for £10 membership fee, you get a chance to win a tickets for each match. With winning limited to adult members, only one prize per member, six matches this season, and even if membership returned to 2006 levels, (1,150) the odds of winning are way better than most ballots.
What travel arrangements do the URSC hope to organise?
As stated earlier, we are taking bookings for travel to Connacht, Munster and Leinster from 13th August onwards.
The Connacht game is 19:30 on Saturday 25th September. We will depart around 13:00 from Montgomery Road and leave for home shortly after the match. We would expect to be back in Belfast around 2am on Sunday morning. Fans can sign up on match nights, or by post – a deposit of £20 must be made to secure a seat. We have tried overnight stays in the past but we find that those who wish to stay over tend to make a weekend of the trip, so we are catering for those who want to return home in the wee small hours. The final price for this trip will depend to some extent upon the numbers travelling and the size of the bus, but we will not charge more than £35 for adults and £20 for juniors.
The Munster trip is a real challenge with a 19:30 KO on Saturday 1st January. Honestly – it is hard to see who will make that trip, unless we arrange a stop over, which will put the price up. But, if we can fill a bus we will make the arrangements. Really, it’s down to the fans to sign up!!
Leinster is always the easier of the trips, results notwithstanding. We took an 87 seater last season and it was a great success, apart from the two who missed the return trip! So look out for details of the April 2011 trip. I would expect to see bookings pick up in February, but it is never to early to secure a seat.
Travel further afield is more problematical. If the Glasgow game (end of March 2011) is on a Saturday with an early KO then we have a good chance of synchronising travel with Stena Line. A similar approach applies for Murrayfield.
What other events are the URSC planning?
Well, this year we are hoping to run a joint calendar with UR. As of current planning, all events will be in the new stand at Ravenhill, and will include the usual Meet the Players Evenings, Quiz and BBQ. I would hope that the established URSC events would continue to be free to members; obviously new UR events may operate differently, but we are looking forward to a joined up programme.
One other programme of events that we are proposing to UR is to screen the Ulster away games in the new bar. We believe there would be good demand for this, but the final say with rest with UR.
We will also be running a season long ballot in support of the Jack Kyle Bursary Fund. The prize will be a signed and framed Ulster Rugby Heineken away strip and tickets will be widely available. All proceeds will go towards this season’s bursary.
Can you provide details of the new web site?
Yes, we hope to have this operational by the start of the season. The address will be ursc.co (note carefully) and we will use this for club information and email. So, instead of trying to remember email@example.com we are changing to firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org etc. Full details will be announced shortly. We also intend to put up some current information on club activities, and arrange links from all the established web sites, including FRU, UAFC and of course, UR. We see this facility as going a long way to further strengthening communication with the fan base.
Finally, we hear that the URSC will be at the Bath game – is this correct?
Well, it would be misleading to single this out by saying that the URSC will be at the Bath game – some URSC members are usually at most games. For that matter, two of the committee are already signed up for Biarritz as well. Whether the URSC makes some form of social arrangement for travelling fans remains to be seen – with our new website coming on stream and our new visibility on match nights it may be possible to do something along those lines. Any suggestions are always very welcome.
It’s your supporters club so take the chance to sign up at one of the pre-season friendlies. The URSC will be at their information point and will be more than happy to answer any questions on their plans for the season ahead.