The Cape Town Stadium was used for the The Match In Africa exhibition match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
The Cape Town Stadium was used for the The Match In Africa exhibition match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Goodbye to Newlands sad but smart

By Clinton van der Berg Time of article published Feb 9, 2020

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Years after South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup, the legacy of its shiny, relatively new stadiums remains a tangled, uncertain business.

Last week came word that Cape Town Stadium, built for R4.4-billion, cost almost R80-million to maintain in 2019. The trouble was the famous landmark generated just R22-million in income. Little wonder ratepayers are grumbling.

Numbers aren’t out on the other newer stadiums, but given that Moses Mabhida cost R3.4-billion, Nelson Mandela Stadium R2.05-billion and the Mbombela Stadium R1.05-billion, it’s a safe assumption that margins are tight. The venues are magnificent, but a massive drain on the fiscus.

Yet things are changing. More than a dozen years after the idea was first floated, Western Province Rugby is moving house. Newlands, the grand old lady who served the union for more than 100 years, has begun to show her age. Despite the tradition, the memories and the great history, it’s a relic sadly out of sync with modern demands. Cape Town Stadium will gladly welcome its new tenants in 2021.

In July, 129 years after the Springboks first ran out at Newlands, they will play their final match there, against Scotland. Old-timers will no doubt reminisce and wring their hands, but for most it will herald a long overdue - and welcome - goodbye.

Investec has already acquired development rights to the stadium. A gleaming shopping mall and ritzy residential project will doubtless soon follow.

Durban grapples with a similar existential problem, exacerbated by the proximity of King’s Park to Moses Mabhida. An impediment persistently cited for not moving is the new venue’s unsuitability for rugby. It makes you wonder why rugby wasn’t properly consulted when city fathers were dreaming up the new stadium.

Don’t expect a resolution any time soon.

The stadium business itself is complex with an ecosystem all of its own. Stadium Management, which looks after FNB Stadium and several major grounds, reckon around 10 000 people will be directly and indirectly involved in staging the Soweto Derby at FNB later this month.

“We run like a small town,” a senior staffer told me, referring to the many moving parts required to make a major event like the Derby successful. The gogo selling boerewors rolls is just one of many.

Yet another example of this economy is found in how venues bid for major events, both for the potential earnings and, with regard to the city, as vanity projects. Competition between cities is a sport all its own.

This is why FNB Stadium will host one of the British and Irish Lions Test matches next year, a guaranteed full house that will add to the venue’s renown as a super-stadium. Other venues did bid for the fixture, but the stadium’s financial guarantee was the most attractive.

Equally, the All Blacks will play in Mbombela later this year, not a traditional rugby venue by any stretch. But the city offered numerous incentives. This is how the Super Bowl in America works, too: cities bid against one another, aware of how big cash flows in on Super Bowl weekend.

Of course, stadiums have multi-use appeal too, so music concerts and religious festivals are typically what keep the lights on.

To some, they may be little more than massive slabs of concrete. But to many others stadiums represent an altogether more inspiring, emotional monument for our fields of dreams. If only we knew how to service our own.

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