The courtship is over – after almost four years of wooing and sweet-talking, Western Province Rugby has announced it will not move from Newlands Stadium to the cash-strapped Cape Town Stadium.
The news was met with disappointment by the City of Cape Town and former Stormers and Springbok captain Corné Krige.
The city, while “surprised and disappointed” to hear the decision through a media statement yesterday, has hit back. It says it has already attracted unofficial offers for the naming rights to the stadium amounting to about $3 million over a multi-year period, and that the stadium’s financial viability has never been solely dependent on the Western Province Rugby Union becoming the anchor tenant.
Krige said: “I think it’s a terrible decision. Cape Town Stadium is an unbelievable venue. Western Province could sell Newlands for lots of money, and the new stadium is a lot more accessible to people and just a better all-round experience for fans.
“Yes, there’s a lot of tradition and history at Newlands, but if you look at what happened with Arsenal and the Emirates Stadium (moving from Highbury), for me a move to Cape Town Stadium is just a natural progression…”
The shock announcement came after a special general meeting of the Western Province Rugby Football Union to discuss the possibility of moving to Green Point.
Western Province Rugby spokesman Howard Kahn said the Stormers and 20-odd clubs rejected a permanent move to Cape Town Stadium for Super Rugby matches, as well as Currie Cup outings featuring Western Province.
The vote to stay at Newlands had been unanimous.
Recently retired WP hooker Tiaan Liebenberg said: “I might be old school, but I’d like Western Province to stay at Newlands for the next 150 years.”
It was “always special for me to play at a place that oozes history”.
Cape Town Stadium is running at a loss of about R40 million a year. This is largely attributed to the lack of a premium anchor tenant, according to the final scoping report on the rezoning of the stadium.
But Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for tourism, events and economic development, said yesterday the city was doing well to mitigate costs with conferences, concerts and other events. These had generated R11m for the 2013/14 financial year.
Four months ago the city gave the SA Rugby Union R3m in sponsorship for the Wallabies clash at Newlands, in exchange for an assurance “the support of this event will assist with current negotiations between the city and WP Rugby for future events to be hosted at the Cape Town Stadium”.
The show of support had come after negotiations between the city and the rugby union reached an impasse.
A three-day workshop on the matter was canned when former mayoral committee member for tourism and events Grant Pascoe revealed talks were being held to get Western Province to be the anchor tenant.
In its statement, Western Province implied that if it became a tenant at Cape Town Stadium it would be a minority shareholder. As the owners of its own stadium the union was “in complete control of its own destiny”. It went on to say that the city had made it clear it would always retain ownership of Cape Town Stadium.
And while the sale of Newlands and a move to Green Point would be a “significant one-off” cash injection, it would be difficult to own, buy or build another stadium in the future.
The union worried that catering for smaller crowds in a 55 000-seat stadium would dampen the atmosphere.
Newlands can accommodate 51 900 people but it is not an all-seater stadium. The city has also said it intends to increase the capacity to 62 000.
The union added that the operating costs of Cape Town Stadium were significantly higher, and the capital replacement costs at Newlands lower.
It would also be a problem to organise fixtures at Cape Town Stadium since major entertainment events were scheduled 12 to 18 months in advance. The Super Rugby and Currie Cup schedules were only finalised by October of the previous year.