Super Rugby is a competition that has been through many changes over its lifetime. The competition has been through phases of growth and phases of downsizing, as the organizers search for the winning formula. It has always been a competition that has never stopped giving the fans a thrill. An evening at the rugby for the most part always delivers the fans with some great entertainment. In recent years stadiums have emptied and fans aren’t coming to watch the live event anymore. Why is this the case and has this been caused by the ever changing format, which has meant less touring time and overall a lower amount of international derby games. There are so many things to analyse and understand. In this post I look at the data surrounding the demise of Super Rugby fans and try and look for what could be causing this demise.
Super Rugby has undergone 4 changes in the past 22 years, which have led to a great expansion of the competition. The changes have meant that Super Rugby is now played in Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. The competition has now reached a stage where the organizers need to fine tune the product that it is giving the consumer. The competition’s up sizing and introducing of more teams from around the world meant that the format, which made it such a great brand to watch was lost. The conference system has had much criticism from fans and pundits alike. Radio New Zealand senior journalist Ben Strang shared his thoughts on the situation saying, “I think as long as TV rules over the scheduling of Super Rugby matches, crowds will continue to struggle.”
The above picture tells the story of how Super Rugby has changed through the years, but what effect has this actually had on the overall attendance of live games across South Africa? The data shows that between 2010 and 2018 the attendance at games in South Africa decreased by 60%. By looking at the timeline above this decrease began when the conference system was adopted. By putting two and two together is it possible to come to an understanding that the conference system is not a brand of Super Rugby that fans enjoy. This could be the reason that Super Rugby has announced that it will be moving back to the round robin format and switching back to 14 teams effective as of 2021.
Factors that have also influenced Super Rugby crowd attendance have also been economics. As the years have gone by the ticket prices have increased and an evening out is just not that affordable for the average person or family to go an attend. Stephen Kisbey-Green former sports editor of the Grocott’s Mail had this to say about the matter, “It’s difficult, because there are a lot of people that would like to go to the games, but the ticket prices and cost of getting to stadiums are just too expensive for them.” Stephen offers a solution to the matter saying, “Going back to the cost, I feel that stadiums are taking advantage of a “captive audience” market, meaning that they can up the cost of beer, cold drinks, and snacks to an almost exorbitant rate. If they made packages for games more cost effective, and introduced a tier system of fees, that might help the struggling rugby fan to afford the event.” Franchises still need to make money, but without the fans there would be no competition.
As an avid fan of rugby Super Rugby is something that I think has to be fixed if Southern Hemisphere teams are ever going to compete with Northern Hemisphere teams for the best players in the world. The lure of Northern money has become a big problem when it comes to retaining the best players in Super Rugby who get offered big contracts to play in Northern Hemisphere leagues such as the Premiership Rugby in the UK and French Top 14. The consequence of this drain of players also means that less fans are tuning in or going to the stadiums as all the stars are not present on the field anymore. If Super Rugby becomes the competition it once was sponsors will once again flock to the competition and teams will be able to retain the players, which will mean that the interest of fans will grow again.