Like rats from a sinking ship … What would you change about the matchday experience to bring Super Rugby fans back to SA stadiums? Sans an unlimited budget, and limited to just a single change, the All Out Rugby team tackles the question.
Tank Lanning – Smaller stadia
Put in bigger seats so fat bastards like me can actually fit into them! Said partly tongue in cheek, but the first thing I would do is revamp our stadia.
While also on the slide, support at New Zealand derbies has seemingly looked OK. Perhaps due to their culture or type of rugby they play, but also because they play in smaller stadia!
In South Africa we have Soccer City which has a capacity of 95 000, Ellis Park (63 000), Kings Park, Moses Mabhida, Loftus Versveld, Newlands, CT Stadium, NMB Stadium (all around the 50 000 mark), and the Free State Stadium which can take 46 000.
Eden Park in Auckland, the biggest stadium in New Zealand, has a capacity of 50 000, yet plenty of the Blues games are played at the nearby QBE in Albany, which has a capacity of just 25 000. The Cake Tin in Wellington can take 36 500, while Forsyth Barr is a 30 000 seater.
The omni-champ Crusaders play their rugby at a venue that can only take 18 000 people. A bit like the Stormers playing at the Danie Craven stadium in Stellenbosch!
Most UK premiership stadia have capacities of less than 25 000. It creates a community type vibe that you just cannot hope to achieve in a mostly empty cavern.
Also Wi-Fi enable them so we can actually Tweet or Insta something on the game. Use said Wi-Fi to allow people to have their boerrie and beer delivered to their seat. Or be able to order an Uber home!
Chop out seats with a crap view and put in pop up restaurants, beer gardens or supervised kids areas. And put screens in that are bigger than those in people’s lounges!
Zelím Nel – Win
It’s the three-letter word despised by rugby romantics and marketing nerds. It’s also what drives interest in professional sport, and that interest manifests itself in match attendance.
On readmission, a team from these shores contested the first three Super Rugby finals (Transvaal won the inaugural championship in 1993). The Boks won the Rugby World Cup at their first attempt and again in 2007, and the Bulls hauled in three Super Rugby titles between 2007 and 2010.
Compare the attendance figures in those years to the numbers since.
Much has changed in SA and the world since 1993. As SA’s economy has been driven into the ground, the prospect of much higher earnings without the obstacle of race-based selections has chased many of the country’s best players to Europe.
And that bad news is compounded by the fact that, in 2019, fans have a surfeit of entertainment options.
This only increases the importance of mining for the most valuable commodity in any sport, and that’s winning. Most fans won’t pay to watch their heroes eat punches indefinitely.
Admittedly, New Zealand teams are winning and struggling to fill some of their stadiums (see: the Cake Tin), but then that country has one tenth of the population of South Africa.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a myriad of opportunities to improve the matchday experience in SA, not to mention the importance of having a sport where the laws and competition format aren’t permanently in a state of flux.
But no amount of jet flyovers, cartwheeling cheerleaders, novelty jerseys, fireworks, marching bands, side-steps, offloads and even tries scored in the name of ‘the product’ will keep a paying crowd coming back like winning does.
OK, so you’ve read what they think, now let us know what single thing you would do to upgrade the matchday experience. Also – feel free to join our #BigDebate on Twitter!