Play the final at Twickers!

Craig Ray

As a lifelong Liverpool fan, one of the club’s greatest nights, and one of my happiest memories of being a supporter of the team, occurred in Istanbul.

Even if you only have a passing interest in football, you know that in 2005, Liverpool famously came from 3-0 down at halftime at the Ataturk Stadium to beat AC Milan on penalties and win their fifth Champions League title.

If you’re a Manchester United fan, the city of Barcelona might be your enduring memory of one of the Red Devils’ greatest moments. Two injury-time goals to beat Bayern Munich for the Champions League title in 1999 is still considered one of the greatest nights in that club’s storied history.

In rugby this year, the European Champions Cup final took place in Bilbao, Spain and featured Leinster from Ireland and Racing 92 from France in the showpiece. Next year the final is set for Newcastle where St James’ Park will host it, regardless of the participants.

The Cheetahs and the Southern Kings could clash in next year’s PRO 14 final and, if they do, the decider won’t be in Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth. It will take place at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

The venues for the 2019 Champions League final (Madrid), the Europa League final (Baku) and NFL’s Super Bowl (Atlanta) are all set. In fact, the final venues are also decided for 2020 in those three competitions.

Yet Super Rugby, the flagship of southern hemisphere club rugby, hadn’t determined the venue for the 2018 final until Saturday.

Three days ago we learned that it would take place in Christchurch, between the Crusaders and Lions. Three days?

That means that SANZAAR, various broadcasters and media outlets have less than a week to hype the event. Travel agents have had little time to secure packages and sports travel companies, who would block-book tickets and then sell them to interested travelling fans, have had no such luxury. There won’t be more than a handful of travelling Lions fans in the stands.

Sure, the Crusaders have earned the right under the current structure to host the final, but that’s precisely the problem. The competition treats its flagship match like any other fixture.

It’s been well documented that the tournament is ailing and that officials and broadcasters are looking for ways to make it more appealing. A good start would be fixing the final venue and creating an ‘experience’ around attending the final.

Super Rugby is a geographically sprawled tournament anyway, which is makes it unique and challenging. But because of that, selecting a final venue should not be constrained either.

Given that matches happen from Buenos Aires to Tokyo and many places in between during the regular season, the final doesn’t even have to take place in the southern hemisphere every year.

If SANZAAR really wanted to boost the competition, the Crusaders could be ‘hosting’ the Lions at Twickenham, or the Stade de France this weekend, where there is guaranteed to be a much larger crowd than at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

Auckland, Sydney, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Cape Town and Tokyo could all be venues for the final. There are no real restrictions, especially if the venue is settled two years in advance.

Fans, regardless of their allegiance, could decide months and years before that they would like to make the trip of a lifetime to watch the Super Rugby final at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City or the Velodrome in Marseille. Of course they might not see their own team, but how many Lions fans have time to organise a trip to New Zealand in six days to watch this year’s final anyway?

If organisers allowed for two weeks between the semis and the final there would be time for those hardcore fans to buy from a set number of tickets retained by SANZAAR for direct sales to club members.

This would have the added bonus of encouraging fans to become registered supporters of their teams, with preference for final tickets given to season-ticket holders.

Given the dwindling crowds in regular season games, it’s worth attempting something different. It would be an incentive to become a season ticket holder, knowing that if your team made the final, and it happened to be in Paris, or Madrid, you could plan a trip and are guaranteed access to the game.

To survive in a tough market, Super Rugby needs to think differently because the reality is that the image of the tournament is as important as its quality.

And the image of a rickety AMI Stadium with 18000 fans on a cold and wet South Island evening, for supposedly the game of the year, is not a good one.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Sharky

    I have a passing interest in football but I didn’t know that Liverpool won their fifth Champions League title in 2005. In fact I have no memory of that game at all – I probably didn’t even watch it. But I do remember United winning in 1999! I was there with my uncle who had been invited by Sir Alex (my uncle coached various Scottish football sides over a 20-odd year period in the 70’s and 80’s). We sat 3 rows behind the United replacements seats. It was a great night!

    Maybe my indifference to the Liverpool game and my fond memories of the United game illustrates the point I’ll make below.

    Though I somewhat agree with your argument, the reality is that having a venue decided before the fact only really helps big business, not Joe Public the rugby fan. Sure packages etc can be put together months beforehand and tickets can be sold a year in advance; but the reality is that having a pre-selected venue only shifts the onus to sell tickets on to the fans. Why? Because, no matter who makes it to a final there will always be a sudden glut of tickets on the black market a few days before the match. This is because all of the fans of the teams that don’t make the cut are all of a sudden not so interested in the game – or at least not interested enough to fork out huge amounts of money for tickets and travel. So, just like I had no interest in Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final game, many Liverpudlians would have had no interest in the 1999 installment. And, therefore, the vast majority of them who had held tickets for that game would probably have long-since sold them on.

    So sure, pre-selected venues will make broadcasters logistics a little easier, allow corporate entities to take better advantage of the match, and probably also boost ticket sales; but in reality there will be very little benefit for the actual fans.

    • Maxwell

      One of the best comeback of comebacks in football. Will there be one on Saturday?. Well I think so.

  • Spartan

    Are you confident the stadium will be full Craig?

  • SweetAz

    Actually not a bad idea,-I would take it a step further and do the same for the semi’s,–Pick a venue and have a double header. All four teams playing on the same day,-preferably under a roof. Takes all the home town refereeing and stupid travel out of the equation. Also make it 2 weeks break between semis and finals giving everybody enough time to travel, acclimatize etc. As it is now, the final which should be a showpiece, is a half-arsed affair in a rickety stadium on the arse-end of the world in what will most probably be atrocious conditions.

  • John Comyn

    I think it is a brilliant idea. It would also even out the travel factor which makes this entire competition lopsided.

  • James Digby Grant

    Not a bad idea at all, benefits the game at large !

  • Chris Mouton

    I like the idea! Especially with having some rest between the semi’s and finals. That would really level the playing field!

  • Nick

    Fantasy not news.

    The combined average crowds of the lions and crusaders would not even fill the bottom levels of twickers.

    The reality is that the ‘super’ final will be played out in a dark and miserable 22000 seater stadium with the obligatory non atmosphere that come as standard in nz stadiums.

    The geographic reality of this comp makes travelling support non existent in non derby super rugby games.

  • Barry Smith

    The competitions problems go way and beyond the venue for the final and I suggest that if there is not an improvement in 2019, then there is unlikely to be a 2020!
    A neutral venue has a nice ring to it this year, because we would rather play in the UK than face the Saders in Christchurch, but I doubt we would all be so enthusiastic if the roles were reversed and we had earned a home final in Jozzie!
    The proposal would also rob SANZA of millions, because two teams would travel rather than one and there would be the huge added cost of hiring and running the neutral venue…just not workable!
    The fundamental structure of the competition needs a fix – reverting to a round Robin, BUT having equal number of teams both sides of the globe would be the key! Viz. four SA teams, two NZ teams and two Australian teams. In this way all teams would face a four week road show, not just SA teams and we would be back to a manageable and exciting format, with a level playing field!

  • humblepie

    It is a good idea to have a week off before the final. It will be a more fair contest between the 2 teams when they are rested and at their best.

    Another view on the Christchurch final:
    It is a small stadium, not much bigger than some of our high school pavilions. It is an open steel structure, temperature less than 8 deg C with a wind cutting through every spectator’s limbs. The players on the field will be OK, but I cant see that the spectators will be much of an intimidation factor whilst they are battling to survive in the cold. It is quite possible that the Saders are ripe to be plucked.

    • BBA

      You make a good point, the Crusaders with their rickety stadium and fans barely able to let out a cheer for their team, because of the cold, do seem rather vulnerable.

      I’m pretty sure that for the Crusaders with their first final at home since the earthquake, and the fact that they still have to put up with the stadium (and for some time too) that the game wont mean much to their fans or the Crusaders team…

      PS If the Lions do win it wont be because the Crusaders were complacent, rather they will have to play and execute very well and perhaps the Crusaders don’t execute as well on the night.

  • Jay

    I have to admit I am not sold on the ‘neutral venue.’ Call me old school but if you have had a season like the Crusaders I think you have earned the right to host the final.

    If you were to move it to Twickers, this would cause the Crusaders to have a longer travel than the Lions. Again, in the context of the season, not fair in my opinion. If you would like to have a more neutral venue, considering the participants in the last three finals, it would most likely be Singapore.

    I do however agree with the 2 Week break instead of 1 but considering the length of the season I can see why this is not happening.

    In an ideal world I would love to see the teams return to a round robin of only the top 2 teams from each domestic competition duking it out which would ensure higher quality games (At least in theory) a shorter competition (keeps us interested) and enough time to sort all the logistics and not have a break for internationals in June.

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