Ulster Rugby: Province will work to bring supporters back to Kingspan says Jonny Petrie
Ulster are prepared to work hard in order to ensure an increase in attendance at the Kingspan Stadium, says CEO Jonny Petrie.
Crowds this season in Belfast have been significantly less than in recent years, particularly in Pro14 games.
"It is fairly easy to point to the things that have happened on and off the field over the course of the past few years," Petrie said.
"Our reputation has taken something of a hit."
Ulster endured a difficult 2017-18 campaign which included tensions with the IRFU over player recruitment while former players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were tried and acquitted of rape.
Les Kiss and his successor Jono Gibbes both left the post of director of rugby as the the team failed to make the Pro14 play-offs.
Confidence of us as a club has perhaps fallen away a bit but also the performance on the field has been mixed and there has been a time of change of coaches, of players," acknowledged Petrie, who several months after CEO Shane Logan stepped down.
"There has been a huge shift in everything that has gone on and it has been a very difficult time. As part of that, people have stayed away."
A renewed commitment
Although attendance has dwindled there are signs that the province, under Petrie and head coach Dan McFarland, are reconnecting with the fan base.
A sell-out crowd watched Ulster defeat Racing 92 in their final home European Champions Cup pool fixtures in December while they have already sold their allocation of tickets for their quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin in March.
"We need to work hard to make sure this is something that people feel engaged with, something they can buy into and feel proud of," added Petrie.
"Yes we have seen falling crowds and falling revenue, but we need to move forward and make this place successful again because we can all see what that will look like with a packed out stadium."
No desire to "re-open old wounds"
When asked about the possibility of Jackson or Olding, who both had their contracts terminated last April, returning to the club at any point Petrie signalled his desire to ensure the club continues to "move forward".
"I am here to move this place forward and I do not think it serves in anyone's best interests to re-open old wounds," he said.
"I will let people make up their own minds as to what that means but I do not see in anyone's best interests at this particular stage to revisit that.
"I am about moving this place forward and making it about the rugby again. "
Ulster are one of four teams in the hunt for two play-off places in Pro14 Conference B, with holders Leinster well clear of the pack in first place.
Dan McFarland's side face Ospreys and Zebre later this month, and will compete in their first European knock-out game since 2014 on 30 March.