REVEALED: Why Lions are staying at Ellis Park
The Lions Rugby Company has contemplated a move away from their iconic home base, Ellis Park, but for the time being, will continue to play their games in the Doornfontein suburb of Johannesburg.
The steady decline of the Ellis Park precinct and the escalating crime rate – a problem for all of South Africa’s major cities – has made a visit to the stadium a lot less family-friendly.
Another major contributing factor to poor attendance at the 62,000-seater stadium is the Lions’ erratic form in most competitions – like the Currie Cup and United Rugby Championship.
Their debut in the Challenge Cup has brought some success, as the Lions will host French giants Racing 92 in a Round of 16 clash at Ellis Park on April 1.
However, attendance has been ‘sparse’ to say the least.
With their biggest crowd of the season a disappointing 12 000, the Lions Company is hard at work to make a visit to the stadium a more attractive option.
Unlike the Stormers, who took the plunge to move away from a derelict Newlands, the Lions are determined to hold onto their iconic stadium.
Lions Company CEO Rudolf Straeuli told @rugby365com that they decided against playing some matches at smaller venues for practical reasons.
(Article continues below interview with Rudolf Straeuli …)
“There are some great games coming up,” Straeuli said about the ‘attractions’ on offer at their Doornfontein-based home.
He said moving away from Ellis Park is “not an issue”.
“We have contemplated it,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “We have suite holders and season-ticket holders [to consider].
“This is an iconic stadium with a lot of history.”
He added that the numbers are increasing and there is already a ‘bigger uptake’ for this coming Saturday’s United Rugby Championship showdown with the Sharks at their Doornfontein Den.
“We are starting to understand the competitions we are playing in,” he said of the URC and Challenge Cup competitions in Europe.
He added that the marking department has several ‘activations’, including the double-header with their neighbours the Bulls in April to attract more spectators.
This includes a doubleheader at the Den on April 15 – when the Bulls and Zebre will play in a ‘curtain raiser’ to the Lions versus Leinster URC Round 17 encounter.
Then, the following week at Loftus, the Lions versus Zebre will be the ‘curtain raiser’, with the Bulls hosting Leinster in a crucial Round 18 match.
“We will see how that is supported,” Straeuli said.
Apart from hosting the Sharks in a URC Round 14 game this week, another attraction at Ellis Park include the URC Round Six replay encounter between the Lions and Glasgow Warriors on February 25.
In July the Springboks will host Argentina in a Rugby Championship Test at Ellis Park.
“The defending World Cup champions will be playing their last game before heading abroad [for the final build-up to the World Cup],” Straeuli added.