Imagine for a moment there was a South African Super Rugby franchise that tried to fill up their stadium in a different way. Imagine this franchise thought ‘f**k it, we don’t make all that much from gate receipts anyways, let’s scrap them’ and let their fans watch the game for free. Imagine this franchise made meaningful provision to foster a bond with their community and actually nurture that bond and create a long lasting relationship. Imagine then what would happen then if that franchise was threatened with being axed from the competition?
For my mind, Super Rugby sides in South Africa struggle to draw crowds because they are alienated from their support base. Supporters aren’t given a sense of ownership in their team. Apart from the fanatical or borderline obsessive supporters and those with friends, family or significant others in the team, franchises, especially the smaller teams, aren’t involved enough in the regular lives of their support base. I’m not trying to suggest that the coaches and players need to know details of their fans lives but they aren’t present or visible enough in their surrounds. Your supporters need to feel like they are a part of something, that they are an extension of the team.
I’ve been around campus and mall activations presented by various Super Rugby teams and when I think about it now, whatever good comes from them, that good doesn’t endure past a selfie with someone famous or the momentary pleasure of receiving a free prize during one of the giveaways.
It is mind boggling that when the most successful Super Rugby franchise in history comes to town that two thirds of the stadium is empty. Or perhaps it isn’t. You need only look at attendance figures in the competition to have predicted that there wouldn’t be a full house. Clearly, the old saying ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t work anymore.
Why not try something different then? For instance, what if you gave a tenth of the tickets (or more) for a particular game to schools around the city, especially to schools in the townships? How impactful would that be, providing access to a sport to youngsters who more than likely would not have had the means to watch? I imagine that such a scenario would not only look better on television and create a better atmosphere at the ground but also give the kids the match -day experience so many of us privileged enough to go as often as we want for granted. Most importantly, it provides the sport with exposure to a new audience.
I imagine, too, that a community with such an involved and generous club in their midst would respond in a much better way when their team is threatened with being axed from the competition. If the good relations between team and community had been established and maintained from the start, there’d be much less legwork to do when trying to rally the public to get behind them and show up for the game; and that support from the community would not be sudden or insincere.
It’s easy to talk when you’re on the side-lines and have nothing in the way of finances invested. I just wish we had the foresight to ask ‘what if?’ looking ahead at the possibilities instead of having to ask ‘what if?’ while looking behind at regrets.