Before we get into the thesis of this story, our first order of business this week is an apology. We got our facts horribly wrong last week in the preamble of the player drain story. Pieter de Villiers was a tighthead prop and not a loosehead, as we suggested. He could therefore have been playing alongside Os du Randt rather than competing with him for a place in the team.
Furthermore, as Front Row Grunt informs us, de Villiers was considered too small to play tighthead in South Africa, which is why he went to France. That he played for that country 68 times (1999-2007) speaks volumes about South African selection policies of the time.
But moving along swiftly, one of the constant refrains around Super Rugby, and, to an extent, PRO14 – especially when it comes to local matches – is the poor attendance by the allegedly rugby-loving public. This suggests that either the public has fallen out of love with rugby or that there’s another problem.
Television viewership figures (and rugby-related commentary and activity on social media) suggest that the love affair is ongoing. So it must be something else. Possibly a local problem because most stadia at away venues seem to have pretty good crowds.
A screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation captured on Twitter a couple of months ago highlighted the problem. It is far more convenient to watch at home on the television because then you don’t miss other games you may want to see and, on top of that, you can enjoy a drink or two without worrying about being stopped in a roadblock.
Indeed, there’s also an interesting take on the issue by Stuart Barnes in The Times (UK version; subscription required) comparing the vibe and attendance at European club rugby matches to that in the global south.
But, we believe there’s a bigger problem in South Africa. Consider alcohol. The general public at a local match – rugby, cricket or football – can only purchase effluent masquerading as a beverage from a chemical company that used to operate under the name South African Breweries. If you want a proper beer; forget about it.
The high prices of other goods – thanks to rapacious vendor license fees – are another problem. We think it would be simple to fix: cut ticket prices in half and give free entrance to kids (18-and-under). Bigger crowds will spend more with vendors and that flows back to stadium management. But what do we know?