The Cape Town Sevens carnival atmosphere and fan engagement show SA Rugby the future of the game in both formats.
With attendance at Super Rugby and Currie Cup matches dwindling the big crowds coming into the Sevens at Cape Town stadium will be a welcome sight to administrators and lovers of the game. The question though, for SA Rugby, is how to replicate the experience and the results across the board.
There are certain things the Sevens has in its favour that the fifteen man game simply cannot apply. XVs cannot be played in December in South Africa, it is just far too hot.
The fifteen-a-side format is also a less open game because there is just less space on the park and teams cannot be instructed to throw the ball about with gay abandon to the detriment of results.
Further, SA Rugby also cannot hope to hold all their Currie Cup fixtures on one day. The Sevens are helped by being a once-off event that folks don’t want to miss out on.
SA Rugby should, however, try to replicate the spirit and atmosphere of the Sevens across the board by introducing a carnival feel to the game to attract audiences who have traditionally stayed away from fifteen man rugby.
The cosmopolitan nature of the crowd at Sevens is immediately noticeable. It’s not just Frikkie and the manne that turn out to watch the truncated version of rugby football, but a cross-section of society. Both on the field and off it Sevens rugby is inclusive and that draws in more first-time watchers of the game and wins new fans for Sevens and its longer forebear.
The family environment fostered at the Cape Town Sevens and other events around the world also serves to make new fans more comfortable and while punters are able to consume alcohol Sevens doesn’t create a foreboding or intimidating atmosphere for new fans and outsiders. The Sevens has noticeably less of the ‘banter’ that is common at Fifteens and this helps women and LGBT fans feel safer and more welcome in the environment.
Encouraging fans to dress up, may seem like an incredibly silly way to promote the game but it creates an extra dimension of entertainment and also helps to foster a friendly environment for fans as opposed to the often tribalistic division between teams.
South African rugby’s franchises ultimately need to take the lead in promoting Super Rugby, Currie Cup and even the Supersport Rugby Challenge (The old Vodacom Cup). The onus is on them to get fans back into the grounds and to create the kind of atmosphere people want to be part of because at the end of the day rugby is entertainment.
Franchises must strive to promote their own brand of entertainment for fans that turn up and need to actively pursue new fans with innovative strategies that keep their product fresh. There is no easy copy and paste solution for South African rugby and plans to freshen up match day may fall completely flat but the Cape Town Sevens have shown what is possible.