Stormers forced to vacate DHL Stadium home in Green Point due to scheduling clashes
Cape Town Stadium is off limits to the Stormers for several games in the upcoming United Rugby Championship season.
After a sensational back end to the 2021/22 United Rugby Championship (URC) season, which saw up to 30,000 (capped under Covid restrictions) fans attend the quarterfinals, semis and final, some of that momentum might be lost.
The Stormers will not be able to host all their home games in the 2022/23 URC at the DHL Stadium in Green Point because of scheduling clashes.
As defending URC champions, the Stormers will have to make way at their Green Point base for Justin Bieber concerts, the Cape Town Sevens and a Monster Truck event.
Although this sounds like the set up to a punchline for a joke, it’s a reality for the Cape side after a delay in the finalising of fixtures for the new season created the issue.
Despite the Stormers’ winning the inaugural URC, the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) remains in administration after it faced financial collapse late last year.
Rian Oberholzer, who has been in charge of the union since last November, months ago warned that a delay in releasing fixtures would have consequences for Stormers scheduling.
“I asked the URC when we will have fixtures for next season, and they said, ‘in July’,” Oberholzer told Daily Maverick in April. “I have to book the stadium as soon as I can, so we don’t have clashes, but how do I do that when I don’t have a final fixture list?
“We have a unique situation because we do not own the Cape Town Stadium.”
That warning has become reality because the City of Cape Town could not turn down many other lucrative events at the iconic venue.
The Stormers are tenants of the City of Cape Town at the DHL Stadium after they sold off the development rights to Newlands in 2020. The situation around the sale of Newlands and its redevelopment nearly collapsed the union, and is not fully resolved.
But the decision to move to Green Point had been coming for more than a decade after the new facility was built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. As WPRFU leaders ran the union into financial strife, that move became necessary.
The reality of being tenants at a stadium was laid bare for the Stormers and while the union has put a positive spin on the situation by using its social media platforms to say “taking the team to more fans”, from a marketing perspective it breaks momentum.
The trio of knockout matches at the stadium last season created a buzz and hype around the city that harked back to a bygone era of rugby dominance in the Western Cape.
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The fan walks, restaurants and bars around the stadium and the atmosphere within its confines was sensational. The positive atmosphere won over many fans who were still angry at the WPRFU’s move from Newlands Stadium. This latest development is likely to raise the ire of the “I told you so,” segment of supporters.
What makes it particularly difficult for the Stormers, is that their first two home games of the new season — against Connacht and Edinburgh on 24 September and 1 October — will be played at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
It’s an immediate momentum killer for the defending champions at the start of a new campaign. But it’s also the reality of stadium sharing.
“While every effort was made to avoid these clashes, the events at DHL Stadium had been booked up to a year in advance, while the United Rugby Championship fixtures could only be confirmed recently,” the WPRFU said in a statement.
“The first two home games of the new season will be played in Stellenbosch due to the Justin Bieber concert which will be held at DHL Stadium on 28 September, which will require significant construction in the stadium.
“The Round Nine clash with Dragons RFC on 3 December will be played at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium due to preparations for the HSBC Cape Town Sevens, which takes place at DHL Stadium the following weekend.
“The Stormers will also end the regular season against Benetton at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 21 April 2023, with the Monster Jam monster truck show taking place at the Stadium.”
The City of Cape Town did not respond to enquiries from Daily Maverick about the scheduling of events at the time of publishing.
Creating a buzz
The ultimate vision, after two years of Covid restrictions, is to make sure the Stormers and Stormers games become ‘an event’ around the city.
The July publication of the URC fixtures was a result of the massive logistical challenge of such a large and geographically spread tournament.
For instance, because matches are in summer in South Africa, scheduling afternoon kick-offs on the highveld has complications.
Summer thunderstorms with the threat of lightning had to be considered. There was also the issue of the URC’s deal with multiple broadcast partners on different time zones, all searching for optimum kick-off times.
“This is a summer rugby competition and we have to start preparing,” Oberholzer said in April, before the final fixture list had been published. “We want to start the new competition with a bang because people aren’t familiar with summer rugby.
“Fans are not used to that time slot and because there are so many factors in the scheduling of games — Friday nights are attractive.
“I think it would create energy around the city to have more Friday night games, and to make it an event in Cape Town.”
As it turned out the Stormers will only play four Friday night games throughout next season, including the big pre-Christmas final rematch against the Bulls on 23 December.
That number might have been as high as six Friday night matches if the DHL Stadium had been available as hoped. But as it is, the Stormers will miss out on three games at ‘home’.
It’s not as if the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch is a bad venue, and in a long season with nine regular season home games in the URC, plus several more in the European Champions Cup, fans in Cape Town won’t be starved. DM