Why Lions are playing 'open cards' with fans
INTERVIEW: The Lions, like most, if not all franchises, are feeling the financial pinch. However, unlike most, they have decided to lay their cards on the table.
Pieter Burger, the Managing Director of the Ellis Park Stadium, revealed that they are “unable to refund all 2020 Lions memberships”.
The need for ‘refunds’ is the result of the COVID-enforced lock-out of spectators in South Africa since the resumption of the game in October last year.
The refund revelation comes in the wake of a recent interview Altmann Allers, the controlling shareholder in the Lions Rugby Company, had with @rugby365com – when he admitted that “something needs to change dramatically soon”.
Like Allers, Burger told this website that they “will continue to search for solutions” to solve the very complicated and diverse financial landscape of the domestic game.
The Ellis Park boss made it clear they are “not ignoring” the issue of refunds, nor expecting the fans to shoulder the loss on their own.
“We are working tirelessly with industry partners and the government to keep rugby afloat, create new opportunities and hopefully gain approval for a phased approach to spectator attendance at stadia and events in South Africa,” Burger said.
He added that they wanted to be open and honest with their supporters about their intentions or resources.
“The majority of people understand the pressure we are under and the financial pinch we are facing,” he told @rugby365com.
However, the uncertainty around the return of spectators – which is in the hands of the government’s decision-makers – complicates matters for the franchises.
Given that rugby was shut down in March 2020, spectators had only a couple of months to get any value out of their membership – i.e. season tickets.
“We want to be transparent and have put our cards on the table, putting the information out to our members,” Burger said.
“We are in the hands of government and the malleable nature of the situation makes it even more frustrating.”
The stadium boss added that they are constantly looking for “value-adding” options for the losses suffered in 2020 and ensuring they get those messages across to spectators – about their options for when they are eventually allowed to return.
Confirmation of the revised schedule for the British and Irish Lions tour means Ellis Park can plan for two fixtures – against the Johannesburg-based Lions (July 3) and the Sharks (July 7).
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We are working tirelessly with industry partners and the government to keep rugby afloat, create new opportunities and hopefully gain approval for a phased approach to spectator attendance at stadia and events in South Africa.
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) May 18, 2021
“We feel very strongly about convincing government to allow spectators to attend those matches, even though it may only be limited numbers,” Burger told this website.
“The reality is that franchises can not afford to be without spectators for much longer.”
He also spoke about the impact the B&I Lions tour will have – not just on the local economy, but also the lift it can give the mental and emotional state of South Africans.
“Sport is a morale booster and we are in need of such a lift now more than ever,” Burger said.
“Even just the phased return of spectators will be the stimulus needed for the economy and the morale of the people.”
Among the value-added options for fans who won’t get full refunds, is the possibility that they will have the first option to obtain tickets for the B&I Lions matches and any other possible Tests down the line.
The stadium might even consider ‘free entry’ for certain matches down the line – for those spectators who lost out in 2020 – as a reward for their loyalty.
“We are not going to throw in the towel, we will continue to look for solutions,” Burger added.