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Champions Cup the promise land for SA teams with more than R22 million at stake

Eduard Coetzee, chief executive officer of the Sharks. Picture: Steve Haag Sports via BackpagePix

Eduard Coetzee, chief executive officer of the Sharks. Picture: Steve Haag Sports via BackpagePix

Published May 10, 2022

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Durban - Earlier this year, the Sharks hosted South Africa’s rugby media at Kings Park and in the information session, chief executive Eduard Coetzee raised eyebrows when he proclaimed that the Sharks’ mission statement was to win the European Rugby Champions Cup.

The Champions Cup is the biggest and richest rugby competition in the northern hemisphere after the Six Nations, and features the best teams from various tournaments, including the United Rugby Championship. It’s the equivalent of the Champions League in football.

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Maybe the media were a touch startled because at that point the Sharks and the other SA teams were languishing in the bottom half of the United Rugby Championship standings, and Coetzee’s ambition seemed lofty.

Four months later the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls are quarter-finalists in the United Rugby Championship and so have qualified for the next European Rugby Champions Cup.

After fans marvelled at the quality of the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-finals over the weekend, and have discovered just how much money is at stake, no wonder Coetzee and the chief executives of the three SA teams would love to get their hands on that trophy.

The winner of the Champions Cup pockets a cool €1million, which is about R17m, and that would be akin to wining the lotto for a SA team.

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But, wait, there is more!

It has been reported that simply participating in the European Rugby Champions Cup earns each team around £150 000 (about R5m) from broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals.

And then, if you are hosting a European Rugby Champions Cup match, you pocket gate money and anything else you earn at your stadium on match day.

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What was interesting is that each venue for the weekend’s European Rugby Champions Cup quarters was jam-packed with fans. The biggest club stadium in England is Welford Road, where Leicester Tigers hosted Leinster, and all 26 000 seats were sold.

I know that the UK and Ireland have far more people than South Africa but perhaps if we are hosting rugby of the superb quality of the European Rugby Champions Cup, we will be able to once more fill our top stadiums, all of which can pack at least 50 000.

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I know we only sell out our stadiums these days for All Blacks matches, but if any one of our four teams are hosting the likes of Toulouse, Leinster (at full strength - which is basically the Ireland team), Leicester or Racing 92, we would get upwards of 30 000, and there might even be a number of overseas fans, who could add a week’s safari to watching their team’s game.

We should not underestimate the fanaticism of overseas supporters. Consider the following.

Munster were hosting Toulouse at the weekend in a quarter-final, but somehow an Ed Sheeran concert was booked for Thomond Park on Saturday, so the game was moved to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Granted there is only 202km between Limerick and Dublin but a mighty army of 40 000 Munster fans trekked to support their team, creating an electric atmosphere.

In short, the participation of the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks in the European Rugby Champions Cup next year is going to be provincial rugby on a whole new level for them, and sweetly lucrative to boot.

IOL Sport

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