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Premiership Rugby

Bristol stadium switch could become permanent

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

In a bold move which could generate the biggest crowd for any Zurich Premiership game this season, Pearce is switching the Bristol Shoguns v  Bath Premiership match in May away from the Memorial Stadium and playing the fixture at Ashton Gate, which might lead to a permanent move.

Pearce said: "Sunday 4th May will be a Real Celebration of West Country Rugby and I hope we can attract 20,000 to Ashton Gate, not only regular supporters, but football fans, racegoers and anyone with an interest in putting our regional sport on the map. If it turns out to be a success and the feedback is positive we will be looking at making this a longer term arrangement."

"I'm aware that a number of our supporters have lately been suggesting this move and we've been considering it for some time. We believe the modern facilities of Ashton Gate will attract a huge crowd where people can come safe in the knowledge that they'll have a good view of the match in a comfortable all-seater stadium, something they do not enjoy in our current home ground.

"The Memorial Stadium facilities are no longer acceptable in the modern age. There are less than 2,000 seats down the sides of the pitch and we know we can't expect existing or new supporters to stand on terraces in the rain," said Pearce.

The Shoguns' Chairman admits to being baffled at the size of the crowds, which although they have risen, still lag behind other clubs.

"We have put together a star studded squad and in each match there are at least a dozen international players on display costing the clubs close to £200,000 for each and every game. Yet in all the years that professional rugby has been played in Bristol, including the period before I became involved, crowds have remained disappointingly small."

"If it wasn't for the support of our existing sponsors and corporate supporters, in particular the huge help we've received from Mitsubishi Motors UK, I doubt whether we'd still be going.

"There are times when I wonder whether Bristol really wants a professional Premiership side at all and rugby followers are maybe content to support the amateur clubs in the Combination. One can't help but notice clubs like London Irish and Wasps who have prospered after moving out of their traditional homes," he added.

The multi-millionaire businessman accepts that an increase in gate income will not be enough to balance the books and he believes players wages will have to be reduced across the Premiership.

"It's not just me saying this, I know a number of owners who have come to the same conclusion. In any business which is losing money you look at ways of increasing income whilst at the same time trimming costs.

"Ashton Gate may be the way we can generate more revenue, but we'll also need the players and their agents to be more realistic in the wage demands. It can't be done overnight, but as most players are on two-year contracts around half of them come up for renewal at the end of every season, so the adjustment could be achieved over a couple of years.

"Reduced basic salaries could then be increased by offering incentives matched to success. If both of those things come to pass professional rugby in Bristol could still have a rosy future," said Pearce.

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