The official attendance figures for the first match of the Lions Challenge against Russia on Saturday was a paltry 4,495 people, definitely not the type of figures the GLRU would have hoped for. Granted, the attendance would have been a bit higher if not for the wet and cold weather conditions but it is doubtful whether it would have reached 10,000 and one can only hope that attendance will improve as the Lions’ Wooden Spoon Knockouts Preparation Programme progresses.
Considering the Ellis Park attendance figures of the past – 2012 Super Rugby: 23,313, 2012 Currie Cup: 19,520 – one probably can expect the Lions Challenge matches to average about 15,000+ per game, with games the South African franchises still to come and games against Samoa, the French Barbarians and the stronger French clubs Montpellier and Grenoble to come later in the programme.
However, attendances will obviously be affected by the teams especially the SA franchises send to play the Lions. If they use the matches purely as practice matches to give their fringe players a run Ellis Park will be lucky to see 10,000 spectators per game.
People who expect the Lions to fill Ellis Park (60,000+), or to even get around 30k spectators to the games, for the Lions Challenge matches are living in a dream world. The fact is that the average South African rugby supporter do not attend rugby matches, he watches it on TV and past records prove that.
2012 Super Rugby:
During the 2012 Super Rugby competition only the Stormers and the Bulls averaged more than 30,000 spectators per home game.
Stormers: 41,919 (excluding the semi final)
No team averaged home game attendances of near 30k during either the 2011 or the 2012 Currie Cup seasons with only the Sharks exceeding 20k in 2012.
Sharks: 21,458 (excluding semi final and final)
FS Cheetahs: 17,262
Golden Lions: 17,035 (excluding the semi final)
Western Province: 16,859
Blue Bulls: 14,199
Sharks: 23,025 (excluding semi final)
Golden Lions: 20274 (excluding the semi final and final)
Blue Bulls: 19,964
Western Province: 18,236
FS Cheetahs: 15,450
(Figures compiled from Wikipedia)
Compare this to American football’s average home game attendances:
2012: University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: 112,252 (102.1%) City population: 760,000
2012: Dallas Cowboys: 88,531 (110.7%)