Edinburgh Rugby chief discusses potential for stadium expansion and private investment
Edinburgh Rugby could never be accused of rushing the decision to put down roots on a permanent home but they got there eventually and a little slice of history will be created on Saturday evening when the team plays in front of a capacity crowd for the first time at the DAM Health Stadium.
All 7,774 tickets have been sold for the match with Ulster as both sides seek a top-eight finish in the United Rugby Championship which would secure a place in the end of season play-offs.Edinburgh have played in front of far bigger crowds at BT Murrayfield but these tended to be one-off occasions such as big European games or festive 1872 Cup clashes with Glasgow.The significance of Saturday’s sell-out is that it is something the club have been building towards since taking up residency at their new home at the start of the season.They have played ten competitive matches at the DAM Health and are yet to lose. The brand of rugby played under new coach Mike Blair has been open and exciting and the match-day experience has been an enjoyable one.For Douglas Struth, the club’s managing director, it feels like vindication. So encouraged is he by the rapid buy-in from the Edinburgh supporters that there are already discussions about expanding the stadium’s capacity.“It’s a real watershed for the club, a real landmark moment,” said Struth. “It’s only seven or eight months since we had our first game here against Newcastle which opened the place. To be able to say it’s a sell-out in such a short period is down to a huge amount of work and I’m hugely proud of what we’ve done as a club to make that happen.”If there is a slightly impermanent feel to the four compact stands at the £5.7million ground, it at least allows a degree of flexibility and Struth has revealed that there is potential to increase the capacity to 10,000.“This is a modular build,” said the MD. “Underneath, there are about 2,000 tonnes of concrete, so the foundations are permanent and it’s ready to support permanent infrastructure. But equally the modular build of the stands means that we can put another tier on the Lothian Stand or put corners in, probably up to 10,000.“You’d have to go through the relevant planning and building warrant process. It wouldn’t be an overnight thing.“It has the ability to grow with us and that’s the really important thing. If we continue selling it out and continue to get it right from a financial perspective, then absolutely expansion is on the cards and, do you know what, in time permanent infrastructure is on the cards as well. That’s the journey we want to go on now.”It won’t happen next season but if Edinburgh continue their current rate of progress then it might not be too far in the future.“I think we need to be consistently selling out the place first to make the economic argument work,” added Struth. “We probably need a wee bit more time to build the support but I don’t think it’ll be too long.”The old maxim of ‘build it and they will come’ can be applied to the new ground which sits next to the big stadium at Murrayfield, Edinburgh’s previous home which was ill-suited to the club’s needs.“I spent a lot of time watching Edinburgh Rugby games as a fan over in the main bowl,” said Struth. “We had some really big crowds and special occasions over the years but there was never any getting away from the fact that there were always 50 or 60,000 empty seats. And that affects the atmosphere, or how a fan enjoys the game or how a player feeds off that.“This is totally different and anyone who has come to an Edinburgh game this season when we’ve had 6,500 in here would probably testify to that.”Struth was appointed MD three years ago, moving from his position as Scottish Rugby’s head of legal. A former season ticket holder, he followed the club throughout its peripatetic years from Myreside to Easter Road to Meadowbank to Murrayfield and then back to Myreside and Murrayfield.Struth calls it “a nomadic existence” and acknowledges that it may have hampered Edinburgh’s hopes of winning silverware in the professional era.“You look at players who have played for Edinburgh Rugby in the professional era - Lions, All Blacks captains - an incredible list of people who have worn the jersey,” said Struth.“You look at that list and you go, ‘why haven’t we been more successful?’ Is part of it the nomadic existence? Were we a bit transient? Does that manifest itself in the culture of the club as a whole? It probably does. And that’s why this [the new stadium] has been such an important project, a game changer both from a financial perspective and a club culture perspective. We’ve got a place we can call home, a place where we can start to build something special.”Edinburgh are still fighting on two fronts this season. As well as closing in on the URC play-offs, they have a home European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wasps next Saturday.Success on and off the pitch would likely make them attractive to external investment. The went down the private ownership route in 2006 and it ended messily but Struth remains openminded.“The first thing is getting the financial sustainability of the club right because nothing’s going to happen unless that’s in place. And that’s about filling the stadium,” he said.“But it’s about investment in the squad too and we’ve increased investment by about a third in the three seasons I’ve been here. We’re in a really good place.“So I guess the question is, if private investment were to manifest itself, would we interested? Yes we would, because I think that is probably the right thing to do, for the wider game in Scotland as well. It’s what form that investment takes. ”