Bok test ticket disaster

US fans spurn SA-Wales showdown, leaving hosts sitting with huge debt

Trevor Nyakane of the Springboks in action during the national team’s training season at St Stithians College in Johannesburg yesterday
Trevor Nyakane of the Springboks in action during the national team’s training season at St Stithians College in Johannesburg yesterday
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

World Rugby’s ambitious plan to promote the sport in America with a one-off test between the Springboks and Wales appears to have been a financial disaster.

Only 21 000 fans turned up to watch the clash at the 46 000-capacity RFK Stadium in Washington between two understrength teams.

According to reports, World Rugby had to come in with a financial rescue package to bail out the match organisers after it failed to hit the break-even target of 27 000 spectators through the turnstiles.

The Herald asked SA Rugby yesterday whether World Rugby had to bail out the organisers, and whether the Boks had received their reported £550 000 (R9.4-million) match fee.

SA Rugby official Andy Colquhoun replied: “These contracts have non-disclosure clauses, as you’ll understand.” He did not elaborate. Britain’s Mail Online reported: “World Rugby have been forced to bail out the USA to the tune of multiple millions of pounds after the Americans’ financial catastrophe was accelerated by the staging of Saturday’s Wales-South Africa test.

“As Sportsmail reported in April, the company [that] put on the match, Rugby International Marketing (RIM), the forprofit arm of USA Rugby, which boasts the RFU and Harlequins as minority investors, has been in dire straits.

“Last year, they lost £3-million [R51million] and needed 27 000 fans to attend Saturday’s Washington DC match to break even.

“Add to the fact that each team has been promised a fee in the region of £550 000, the match has become a major financial burden to add to the pre-existing woes at RIM.

“Now World Rugby – the game’s governing body – have stepped in to ease the losses caused by this overstretching.”

What made the American jaunt even more painful for the under-strength Boks was that they crashed to an embarrassing 22-20 defeat against an experimental Welsh side.

Many Springbok supporters have slammed the plan of scheduling the outof-test-window clash ahead of a crucial three-test series against England, which kicks off at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Boks paid a heavy price for sending a team into battle with seven uncapped players in the starting lineup and a further six without any international experience on the bench.

At one stage, there was speculation that the game would be called off because of poor advance ticket sales.

Ahead of the clash, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus made it clear that making money had been a big part of the plan.

“One is for SA Rugby to make a bit of money‚ which helps keep our players here by making a few bucks there‚” he said.

“The other reason is to have another test before Rugby World Cup 2019.

“We don’t have a lot of time to prepare so having one extra match where we could experiment a bit was a good thing.”

Earlier, Erasmus conceded that logistics would be tricky by playing Wales in the US a week before the home series against England‚ but that the match was necessary for two reasons.

High ticket prices and under-strength Bok and Welsh lineups contributed to the lack of interest in Washington as rugby bosses tried to reach a new audience.

Rugby has had an eye on expansion for some time, and PRO14 and Super Rugby want to make their presence felt in America.

But they underestimated America’s appetite by serving up a second-rate menu that the residents of Washington did not warm to.