Antoine Dupont thought of them, in spite of everything. "It's our turn to make our fans tick. " The young scrum half and his teammates of the XV of France are preparing to live their first match of this World Cup, Saturday, September 21, in Tokyo against Argentina. An important first match. Even decisive for the continuation of the operations and a possible qualification in the quarter-finals. Kickoff: 9:15 French time.
How many early birds to turn on their television this weekend? Question delicate, as the rugby Blues seem to move away from their audience. Not only in kilometer distance. In the minds too.
At the beginning of September, Max Guazzini experienced it again. "In a food shop, in Paris, I come across a current player from the XV of France. Not a new kidsays the former Parisian president of Stade Français (1992-2011), famous for his sold-out games and his calendars of players in Adam's outfit. I greeted him, of course. But nobody knew him. It was me who had to introduce it. "
At the Stade de France
The day before, the French were still playing their last match of home preparation. Never match of the national team had gathered as few spectators at the Stade de France as this Friday, August 30, in Saint-Denis, against Italy. Approximately 30,000. That is to say not many people, in a stadium of 80,000 seats. Jacques Brunel preferred to see the stadium half full, so the coach found the audience "Enthusiastic".
The test-match against Italy, August 30, broadcast on TF1, was less interested than the TV movie France 2 " The Promise of Water »
Another tumble, that of hearings. The test-match of TF1 has less interested than the TV movie of France 2 The promise of water. Final score: 3.29 million viewers against 3 million. It was certainly a simple France-Italy. A summer Friday night, moreover. But desertions multiply.
In November 2018, some 50,000 spectators hardly saw fit to attend the test against South Africa, one of the best nations in the world. It is not for lack of having made come free clubs of the area. Neither to have sold off the paying tickets: half price for those of third category, from 50 to 25 euros.
It is not a fault, either, to have relocated matches away from the Stade de France. On land where rugby hoped to take advantage of the surprise, the affluence also disappointed. Mid-August, 25,000 spectators took place in Nice for the first match of the summer against Scotland. That is 10 000 vacant seats. That evening, as usual now, no announcement at the microphone indicating the exact affluence during the match.
The explanation for these empty stands is above all on the ground. Fact, "We are not a top world team", Arthur Iturria agrees. Who goes even further: "We are nobody. " The third line may have a mustache of yesteryear, he is only 25 years old.
His international debut dates back to 2017, long after the last thrills of the national team: a final at the World Cup (2011) and a Grand Slam at the Six Nations Tournament (2010). Well after the 2007 World Cup at home, too: a popular success for the Blues, failing final.
A "cyclical phenomenon"
Their coach at the time now chairs the French Rugby Federation (FFR). Solicited by The world, Bernard Laporte did not wish to comment on the evolution observed. The leader expects a lot of the next World Cup in France, that of 2023.
This month, the "federation" relays a survey supposed to encourage optimism: more than 73% of respondents would have a positive image of the XV of France, according to the thousand people interviewed by the Odoxa barometer for RTL.
Difficult, however, to hide affluences and audiences. Their low level belongs to the same "Economic phenomenon", according to Christophe Lepetit. For the head of economic studies at the Center for Law and Economics, Limoges, "Different business has tarnished the positive image of this sport and the federation".
At the forefront of these, a file still in progress: the National Financial Office continues to investigate suspicions of conflicts of interest between Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad, leader of the Montpellier club.
Practitioners' health is also a concern. In the first quarter, a Parents' Federation of players and rugby players announced World the deposit of its statutes. With a leitmotif: "That decisions are made and followed over time for safety and health. " Three dramas preceded this creation: the death of three young people, in 2018, all as a result of tackling.
Between counter-performances on the field and extra-sportive worries, Christophe Lepetit notes a "A reversal of the balance" with the image of French footballers. Very bad in 2010, when they left the South African World Cup in the first round, against a backdrop of tragicomic conflict between the players and their coach. Excellent in 2018, the year of their world title. "The French Football Federation has gradually rebuilt this image, especially thanks to the Euro 2016 at home. "
Fewer and fewer licensees
For now, like the general public, practitioners seem to be turning away from rugby: 245,000 licenses in the past season, compared to 289,000 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to federal figures released World.
A major sponsor has also distanced himself from the FFR. The automaker BMW has been starting from this summer, while its partnership could be renewed in 2020. Rather pay a deduction than continue. The German mark has justified this withdrawal in a convoluted way, by its desire to "Rise in power over interactive and digital formats to meet the increasingly diversified expectations of its customers."
To return to the box office, looking well, we still found satisfied leaders. Those of the National Rugby League, the organization responsible for professional clubs.
Emmanuel Eschalier, Director General, argues "A sensible progression" of the affluence during the matches of the championship of France. "We went from just over 10,000 spectators on average per game in 2007 to just over 13,700 in the past season. "
Proof that "Potential" still exists on a smaller scale. Regarding the XV of France, may still win games.