Premiership rugby union is booming in terms of attendances and revenue - up by 52 per cent over three years - but the growth of the game is being held back by an inability to accommodate all the fans who want to watch Premiership matches.
Worcester have been at the forefront of the attendance boom since their promotion to the Premiership at the end of last season, but the capacity of their Sixways ground - less than 9,000 - could hinder future expansion.
The perennial threat of relegation is also causing owners, who have already invested around £120 million, serious concerns over pouring more money into their clubs, according to a report out yesterday.
Total match day income has increased by 42 per cent over the three years from 2001 to 2004 with a further increase expected in the current season, revealed the first annual Saffery Champness Review of Rugby Finances.
But, at the launch of the findings, Howard Thomas, who departs next month as chief executive of Premier Rugby which now has an annual turnover of £35 million, said: "The report brings into sharp focus the issue of relegation." He described the effects of the drop from rugby's Premiership to National Division One - a fate which has just befallen Harlequins - as "dropping from the Premier League in football to the Conference."
But both Thomas and the report are confident that rugby, which has grown hugely since the game went professional ten years ago, is wellplaced to avoid the financial pitfalls which have plagued many soccer clubs.
And, although he accepts that Premiership rugby will never challenge soccer at the highest level for attendances and revenue, it is well-placed to grow bigger than football's second-tier.
"We will never be the Premier League in terms of financial clout but I believe in five to ten years we will be outperforming their Championship," predicted Thomas, who believes that rugby's £2 million-a-season player salary cap for each club will prevent the game from being dominated by a big two or three like football's current Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United triumvirate.
"I don't think it's healthy when you start the season knowing that the champions are going to come from one or two clubs. Our league is the most competitive in the world where the bottom team can beat the top team on any given day," he said.
But both Thomas and David Lemon, a partner in Saffery Champness who worked on the report on rugby finances from the 2001-02 season through to the end of 2003-04, accept that there are problems to be solved.
With 1.35 million people watching matches during the current season - an increase of 15 per cent over the previous year - some clubs, like Leicester who plan to move to Leicester City's Walker Stadium after next season, have clearly outgrown their facilities.
"Capacity is a crucial factor, it's one of the biggest factors holding back the game," said Lemon.
He said that clubs currently have plans costing a total of £100 million in place to increase their facilities but Thomas pointed out that many fear the damage relegation could do.
Quoting Saracens owner Nigel Wray, who pertinently asked: 'If you have a one-year lease on a flat do you put a new bathroom in?' Thomas said: "The biggest issue we have to face up to as a sport is promotion and relegation. The drop from the Premiership to the league below is enormous."
Thomas does not see an increase from 12 to 14 clubs in the Premiership as a solution either. Instead, he called on the RFU to upgrade the game below the Premiership.
"There is now an opportunity to develop something of real interest at the semi-pro level," he added.