How to fill stadiums again?

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!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Well, if I had to select one then I would have to go with with Mr Nel. Winning always creates interest and the attendance follows. Nothing worse than leaving with that empty hollow feeling when your home side has taken a beating!

    Reality is that there are many facets to the problem and many plans that can be put in place to address the issue.

    At present, the Broadcasters have too much clout. as long as they are getting viewership they don’t care too much about stadium volumes, because it affects the Franchises bottom line, not theirs. However, volumes have shrunk so significantly that it is time for the Broadcasters to get involved, because the volumes are so low now that it is starting to impact the viewing enjoyment. In short, you do not only need 30 players to have a successful viewing experience – you also need a stadium (what ever the size) full of supporters to creat the vibe!

    So Broadcasters and Franchises are going to have to “buy in” their crowds, so to speak! Dip into their cumulative pockets and use that cash to incentivize the crowds back to the stadium – lower prices, free school blocks, bigger seats for fat guys, better transport to stadium, entertainment etc

  • boyo

    Offer transport to games on fan buses from certain strategic points. Parking near stadiums is difficult to find and expensive and the driver must remain sober. An uber to and from the games is expensive which added to the costs of food and drink make it a very expensive day out.

    So offer fan buses that ferry people from certain key points to the stadium and back at intervals.

    As a Sharks fan one could leave from Galleria at Toti, Ashton College in Ballito and Stokers arms in kloof.

    The buses would be festive and a ticket price to cover the costs would be far cheaper than an Uber and I am sure places like Joburg and Cape Town would benefit even more from Fan buses .

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      One HUNDRED percent Boyo. In fact, this was going to be my initial suggestion. Such a key part of how fans down under and in the UK get to the game. And they make it a big part of the day, stopping at pubs or restaurants. Turns “mere” games into events. Ideally not buses though, as they would then site in the same traffic as the cars. But bus lanes could perhaps help. Trains ideal, but my oath, do we have issues with our train service in SA!!!

      • boyo

        Trains! You guys in the WP are lucky to even be able to still mention that but yes a fan train would be a real jol. We still have bus lanes to Moses mahbida(across the road from kings park) as a legacy from the 2010 WC so buses could work here and maybe when the stormers move to greenpoint. Ellis park I think is also about the safety aspect of not having to drive and park in that part of town whether that can be best achieved by bus/train etc I am not sure.

  • John

    I agree with Zelim. Loyalty is just not in our rugby culture. I can’t speak for the rest of the country but when a WP side is winning one can’t get a ticket for the love of money. We are also all getting a lot poorer by the day. A friend of mine has had 2 season tickets for many many years. He sold them this year because his wife said there are a lot more important things to spend money on than season tickets. And yes he hasn’t spoken to her for going on 4 months! Maybe dropping the prices a bit will help. I am fortunate as I can walk to Newlands and am surrounded by females at home who have no interest in rugby but I would imagine for someone with kids it can be an expensive exercise.

  • Nicholas

    I feel like this debate wasn’t taken seriously.

    Arguing that in order for teams to attract crowds, they need to win or change the structures of stadiums doesn’t add a lot of value.

    Teams obvs want to win. They just can’t. And changing stadiums is hella tough (Costs, planning permission, board members, and so on…)

    This was an opportunity to argue topics like:

    – Taking marketing seriously, which teams have failed to do.

    – In-Stadium activations

    – Revamp social media teams. The example of how the PSL’s Cape Town City built a fan-base from nowhere using innovative social media springs to mind.

    – Times games are played

    – Ticket costs: A study said that something (I don’t have the study so please take this with a pinch of salt) close to 65% of die-hard South African rugby supporters have a collective family income of under R4000. So, essentially franchises are excluding their biggest supporter base with pricing.

    More can be done to emulate match day experiences of Varsity Cup and the Super Rugby Sunday we had earlier in the year.

    • Graeme Fleetwood

      I still don’t want to watch my team lose every Saturday.

  • Nick

    Right on Nicholas.
    Nel’s ‘solutions’ belong in a primary school debate.
    Browsing over our ‘Big 4’s’ websites tell you everything about this. Shockingly low grade in the main. An easy problem to solve. Clubs in the UK work hard to get fans through the gates, through social/electronic media and genuine community work.
    It is also imperative for the long term survival of SA rugby that unions do not rely on an 8% of the population demographic to fill the seats. It simply won’t happen. Great to see this changing in some grounds though.
    -Can’t unions sell discounts to families? As pointed above it’s out of the reach for many to enjoy the family experience of a game. Let’s say 50% off for a family of 4.
    -Many so called fans won’t even pay unless they get freebies from a corporate deal or such. Remember that many of these tickets are paid for by sponsors that allow non paying employees to watch for free. This corporate element inflates prices and ultimately keeps fans away.
    -As Tank points out, the biggest issue really, is our often useless public transport. In Uk and Europe they have a huge advantage of accessibility in this regard. Nobody drives to a game in the UK if they want to have a drink or two. Unless one of your buddies wants to be the designated non driver driver. Taking a train is a safe, reliable no brainer.
    -And by the way, this issue of low attendance is a world wide problem that all sports must struggle with. I would hardly hold up the Kiwi Game as a great example of atmosphere and attendance/crowd size. Their crowds are small and generally miserable. This blows Zelim’s ‘win’ theory down the can. The kiwi’s win everything, but check the ‘crowds’ out.

  • Nick

    And good on the big Duanne for trying to do something about it at Loftus. He would have learnt a lot about how the French clubs have massively strong community links and support. Gee…..Nick Mallet said something similar a few years ago and got fired!
    Hopefully Duanne has more success!

  • Len Kope

    In days of old at Newlands , there were matches before the main event : schools , clubs , Provincial age competitions . I know it caused wear and tear on the field but it helped to attract spectators across the board who would stay for the lot !

    • OldGitEd

      Agree! Super rugby must also have an u20 league running alongside it. And Club games on the day.

  • Nick

    Same at Ellis Park…..Back in the day.

  • Dickmc

    You should have asked the squad from the Michigan State University for the answer. Their home games are played at the “Big House” which has a capacity of over 100,000. They have had full houses at home games for the last forty years! – They do not rank in the top five college teams let alone the NFL but they still manage it.

  • OldGitEd

    All of the above. Unions or franchises must STOP FOCUSING ON GREED.

    Spectator focus and reasonable ticket prices!

    Nothing like Accountability and honest governance by management to instill trust in spectators. Even more so when players, coaches etc. are the best that their money could buy.
    Look at successful clubs and copy and improve. Not difficult innit.

  • Deon

    I think we have to accept that life has changed for most South Africans. I used to be season ticket holder at the Bulls, but my last game was the famous loss against the Brumbies when they refused to kick for posts!

    Hectic job, young family, limited time for simple things during the week fill my Saturdays. So I rather watch at home with mates and where I can enjoy a beer still. So much easier.

    Saying that I am taking my son to his first game tomorrow against the Crusaders ?

  • David

    Let the players interact more with the crowd after the game. Years ago they used to do it. Now its how quick can they get off the field. Supporters want to meet and have selfies with their heroes. Even if its with the protection of the security barriers. The Super Rugby franchise has killed South African rugby, gone are the days where the Currie Cup was the main spectacle.And our class of Rugby was much better.(Our Stadiums used to be full then) Now the Currie Cup is basically B side Rugby. I think that what should happen is that Super Rugby must be based on the best Two teams of a country. And the Currie Cup competition dictates that. The Two teams that are in the Currie Cup final move on to Competing in the Super Rugby Competition. Just my thoughts

  • Eugene

    Nothing to do with stadiums Loftus offers everything Busses to stadium, lots of parking, restaurants, beer gardens. The format is just not appealing anymore, different time zones, traveling etc . It starts friday morning all the way through to very early Sunday mornings. Just to much. Maybe a bigger local competition with major players will be more appealing or something in at least the same time zones

  • Jacques

    First the parking prices and the unsafe areas around the staduim- where normal people would park their vehicles – the current car guards are local people claiming normal munisipal street parking as their territory with arrogance and due to shortage of parking one have to pay whatever the rate – should rugby franchises provide secure parking with reasonable fees with no harassment from unqualified car guards where supporters can braai and have a good time before and after the game I am sure that it will have a positive effect.
    Secondly with the current economic climate tickets has become un- affortable as far as families are concerned – for a family of 4 and reasonable average good tickets
    @ R 150 each + the unsafe parking “fine ” @ R100.00 -adds up to R 700.00 an outing – without braaing and a couple of cooldrinks – can add up to R 1200.00 + for a afternoon of fun .
    In short – provide secure and safe parking without hassling from outside criminals , reduce ticket prices and everything will show a turnaround………….
    But that is only my view.

  • Gary

    There is only one way to bring uninterested fans back to the stadium, a better half time show combined with lower ticket prices. There would be plenty of :comedians, singers, bands, or other interesting acts ( if you put your mind to it you can think of hundreds of opportunities) I bet they would do it for free even, just for the great opportunity to play in front of the crowd.

    By doing this crowds may come for the show and gain interest in the rugby, if it is cheap enough fans will come. The fuller the stadium becomes the bigger the stars you can attract and the more money made on concessions. Everybody wins

  • Nolies

    Winning will return people to rugby. Stop this BS quota system and return to merit selection. Our schoolboy teams are the strongest in the world and there is no quota selections at local school level. Less than 5% of our top rugby school teams will have the required quota that are placed on other rugby structures. The top u/18 craven week teams in SA will get smashed by our top five or ten rugby schools. The current u/20 SA team has more players that went to KZN Schools than any other province, yet KZN school rugby is far behind WC, EC and Gauteng, this kind of rubbish happens because of quotas. The junior Boks should be unbeatable every year. Transformation should be done at primary school level. SARU and our government should stop playing games and stop their window dressing and get down to real transformation. Get proper coaches to previously disadvantaged communities and start with things like tag rugby where infrastructure is not that crucial, but it teaches the basic skills of rugby, pass, running into space and support. Only a fool can expect that children growing up in a school system with average coaching and failing rugby structures will on average reach the same level as a children that grow up in a primary school system with great rugby coaching and support. If you take two clones which one will be more likely to succeed? I have done just this in my sport also a contact sport that is not known under the non white communitiesand the results were instant. Kids have talent no matter where they are just give them the proper coaching and they perform.

    One last thing get our of SANZAR or shorten the tournament we need our best players in the Currie cup. The European teams play their local competitions and the European competitions. Super Rugby is to long and is killing our game.

  • Nick

    Start by banning TV. Like it was pre 1977 and the stadiums were full.

Comments are closed.