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Defending champion Wales commenced its 2020 Six Nations campaign with an emphatic 42-0 win over Italy on Saturday, with the visiting team also having to contend with the ‘extra man’ that is the home crowd at Principality Stadium.
The Cardiff venue is rightly regarded as one of the most atmospheric grounds in the sport, with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) of the firm belief that crowd participation forms a major part of fuelling the fan experience – starting with the pre-match build-up.
“Post-match surveys reveal that the Welsh national anthem is one of the most highly anticipated experiences at the stadium,” a WRU spokesperson told Fan XP. “The sound is like a cauldron when 74,000 voices come together. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
“We invite a number of traditional male voice choirs and mixed choirs to perform at each game and musical director Hayden James has conducted each choir performance during the rugby matches here at Principality Stadium for over 20 years.
“Following the on-pitch performance the choir takes to the stand to enjoy the game alongside supporters and those lucky enough to get a seat near that area can enjoy regular breakouts into song throughout the match.”
The entry into a new decade comes on the back of a landmark year for Principality Stadium.
The venue formerly known as the Millennium Stadium marked its 20-year anniversary on June 26, with the facility having contributed a positive economic impact of £2.75bn over this time, according to an independent report by Econactive on behalf of the WRU.
The WRU believes its crowd participation ethos is an example of how the fan experience has evolved alongside the stadium.
The WRU spokesperson said: “A highlight is the move to crowd participation. One highlight of this use of the anthem was in 2004 when Wales, with New Zealand’s permission, were allowed to respond to the All Blacks’ Haka.
“Wynne Evans (a Welsh singer and actor) appeared from underneath the posts in the North Stand and strode the length of the pitch waving a huge Wales flag, leading the crowd in a rendition of ‘Bread of Heaven’.
“Events like this have inspired us to believe that the anthem is best sung by the crowd and led on the pitch by a conductor and traditional voice choirs. If you watch Hayden on matchday you’ll see he doesn’t just conduct the choir but the whole stadium.”
The start of this year’s Six Nations has also seen a significant change to the fan experience at Principality Stadium, with the venue following a growing trend in the events industry of moving towards cashless status.
The Italy game saw the stadium make a significant move towards becoming cashless in direct response to consumer-purchasing habits.
Principality Stadium said that in recent years the venue has seen an increase in the use of card payments at point of purchase across its 65 food & beverage (F&B) units – reducing transaction times and improving the fan experience.
Officials pointed to the fact that the Wales and Wales Women double-header against the Barbarians at the end of last year saw either a debit or credit card used for 85% of all transactions made. However, fans are still able to pay by cash at eight F&B units within the stadium.
The 2020 Six Nations is also the first to include a permanent Alcohol-Free Zone (AFZ) at Principality Stadium.
In July, the WRU confirmed that the AFZ would remain in place following a successful trial period that began with Wales’ 2018 autumn internationals against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa.
The WRU spokesperson said: “The stadium is making moves to become a cashless venue, which will allow fans to be served quicker and reduce waiting times at the food & beverage units across the concourses.”
Prime real estate
The Principality Stadium occupies a prime position in the heart of the Welsh capital.
However, having a 73,931-capacity stadium in the middle of a busy city centre also comes with its own challenges in ensuring fans have the best experience possible, whether it’s attending a Six Nations game or a concert.
The WRU spokesperson added: “The timing of kick-off is an important factor for us. We open our gates three hours before kick-off and with maximum search procedures in place it is important for us that supporters enter the stadium in good time and do not leave it to the last minute to access the stadium, or risk missing kick-off.
“This is probably the most important logistical message and we also make sure we work closely with travel, rail and bus services and South Wales Police to ensure that access and egress to matchday goes as smoothly as possible for all supporters.
“We are in a unique city centre location which is a main and significant attraction for our venue, but this presents its own challenges in terms of managing the sheer numbers of supporters around the city.
“These challenges are something that the city has grown used to, having attracted capacity world sporting events such as world championship boxing, football’s UEFA Champions League final, international speedway and other motorsports events, as well as major international music stars like Ed Sheeran, Madonna and the Rolling Stones.”