Fans deserve a better match day

Yes we have a pro rugby product in need of some TLC says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, but we also have a live match day experience that is in the ICU and in dire need of some CPR.

Tank Lanning

It’s so easy to watch rugby on TV. So when people are ditching that (Super Rugby TV numbers have dropped 30%, and audience share on SuperSport has dropped 22%), you know you have an issue.

To head to the stadium perhaps? Clearly not given the recent attendance figures.

Last week I spoke about a bleeding pro product, but the product is two-fold. The actual Super Rugby structure is one part, and seems to be being addressed using consultants. The other product related thing we simply have to improve here in South Africa, though, is the match day experience.

When last did we see an interesting or innovative activation at a stadium in SA?

In an article on Sport24 last week, two un named CEOs of local Super Rugby franchises blamed poor stadium numbers on the economy, big name players playing overseas, transformation objectives, the simpler and cheaper TV experience, the amount of rugby and the tournament structure.

“Even inviting musicians to perform after matches does not really work anymore” complained one.

Not even a blerrie musician! Blame, blame, blame … Have these CEO’s given up before trying anything?

We can’t just dish up the same muck and hope for people to come!

How sensational was the support from locals for the Chiefs vs Crusaders game that was played in Fiji? Now that is different, and innovative!

Generally, support at New Zealand derbies has been good. A culture thing for sure, also due to the amazing rugby they play, but also because they play in smaller stadia!

In South African we have Soccer City which has a capacity of 95 000, Ellis Park – 63 000, Kings Park, Loftus Versveld, Newlands and NMB Stadium – 50 000, and the Free State Stadium – 41 000.

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.

AAMI Park, where the 7 times champs Crusaders play their rugby, can only take 18 000 people. A bit like the Stormers playing at the Danie Craven stadium in Stellenbosch which has a capacity of 16 000!

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. Something for us to ponder in SA?

On the cards should also be wifi enabling the stadia so as to not only enable picture sharing on social media, but active encouragement of it. Or just being able to order an Uber home! Allowing people to pre-order their food and drink and have it delivered to their seats. Making getting to and from stadiums safer and easier. Putting in bigger and better placed seats to give fans more space (yes, I am a fat bastard, and yes I am biased). Chopping out seats with a crap view and putting in mini restaurants/beer gardens or supervised kids areas. Having screens that are bigger than those in people’s lounges, with smaller screen clipped onto the back of them like they do at Twickenham – for those sitting behind the screen. New and novel crowd interaction activations offering fun incentives like first to Tweet XX pic wins a trip to the changing room. TV angles and cameras exclusive to the stadium. And how about bringing back good old fashioned curtain raisers that don’t end a week before the main game starts?

Yes we need a better structured Super Rugby tournament that people will hopefully care about again. But we also need a vastly improved match day experience.

But it’s all going to cost money! Yes, money that you will make back through getting more people to the venue going forward. Anyone hear the one about franchise privatisation?



  1. Bring it on make it an experience not a bind. By building the large stadiums that we have have is now a negative (we cannot even fill them for test matches)

  2. Great read!

    The Lions are one of the few teams who have attendance up this season, thats partly, rather largely, because of the teams performance but also because of changes they have made to the match day experience over the last few seasons.

    Last year I picked up a season ticket, add on a few extra Rands and I got stadium parking in the parkade, literally 30 meters from the East stand. The parking was a huge plus, I had parking for the whole season and even for the Kiwi test match. Even is you didn’t have a season ticket you could by parkade parking tickets for match days.
    It was disappointing to see that this years season tickets didn’t come with parking reserved for a whole season but you had to pick up tickets at stages through the season, the parkade was not available for the and purchasing tickets for the parkade on match day was not available this season. I wish I knew what the reason was for the change.
    Also on the South stand the removed a bunch of chairs to make space for some braais. You could buy a braai pack at the ground, watch the game as you tanned your wors, quite a nice innovation.
    One big question remains, Why do we have to pay R20-R30 for a soft drink and other crazy prices just because we are in a stadium ?

    1. Thanks Grant. Yes, I have also heard of the good things being done in Joburg. Long may they continue, and long may others learn. Stadium prices given the captive audience are a world wide phenomenon, sadly. A beer at Twickenham requires a long chat with your bank manager! But no need to follow … Make a litle less per drink and surely you will sell more, and thus make up the shortfall?

  3. Hi , really interesting reading all the opinions and comments
    It concerns me that during a competition the focus of conversation is directed at negative opinion and that this in itself is damaging to the game , just like a glass of water you can choose to say half full or half empty .
    It’s not wrong to be critical , but then it’s also not good either , for me rugby is an outlet a place of enjoyment to forget about the reality of the week and support my team , sure the product isn’t perfect , but I would sure as anything have it like it is than nothing at all .

    1. Fair call Craig, and am actually chuffed to hear that. I think it’s my job to raise different perspectives, though, and encourage debate around them. Sometimes negative, but also sometimes positive …

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