Moses Mabhida Stadium isn’t all that good for our Sharks

2009-06-11 00:00

I REFER to Marc Stydom’s full-page article in The Witness on June 3, on the new Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Unfortunately, the article is based solely on Ms Ellingson’s propaganda and not on the facts. One would have expected Mr Strydom to have at least approached the Sharks for a response, so as to present a balanced article to the public.

These are the facts.

) The Sharks have responded promptly to every request received from the Durban Municipality for information, business plans and the like.

) On the contrary, the Sharks have been waiting in some instances, since September 2006, for a response from the municipality on the following issues.

•If the new stadium is going to be home to both the Sharks and a soccer franchise, how is it envisaged the two entities will co-exist and share the facilities, e.g. practise fields, offices, function rooms, etc?

•Will the Sharks be compensated for the loss in revenue from the naming rights for the stadium and advertising in and around the stadium?

•Will the Sharks and KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union have to pay rental to the stadium operator for the not inconsiderable administration and coaching staff offices and facilities which currently do not cost anything besides normal running expenses?

•How will ticket revenue be allocated between the Sharks and the stadium operator?

•Will the Sharks be compensated for the loss of suite rentals as a result of there no longer being suites available?

•What financial benefit will there be for the Sharks to move to the new stadium? Surely, the municipality does not expect the Sharks to move if they are going to be worse off financially?

•Will there be facilities for the Sharks Rugby Academy which currently has just on 200 students and, if so, what will be the cost involved?

•Will the Sharks be compensated for the asset it currently has, i.e. the stadium and outer fields all of which are subject to a lease with the municipality which expires in 2056 and which are conservatively valued at R500 million for the improvements only or does the municipality expect the Sharks and KZNRU to merely abandon this asset and move to the new stadium in which their various current income streams are going to be seriously affected?

) Ms Ellingson proudly claims there will be 2 000 parking bays available. At four people per vehicle, this will provide parking for 8 000 spectators. Where are the other 48 000 spectators (once the stadium has been downsized) and the customers who are visiting the 7 200 square metres of retail shops and not attending the rugby going to park?

) The television set analogy referred to is also inappropriate. Spectators will be considerably further away from the field of play in the new stadium. The first row of seats along the length of the field will be more than double the distance from the touchline than is the case at the Absa Stadium. If, however, one is unfortunate enough to sit in the back row behind the poles or goals, one will require very powerful binoculars to see what is happening on the other tryline. Perhaps the old bubble screen Telefunken is in fact a better bet than the new high-definition flat screen unless you like to watch the whole game through binoculars. Ms Ellingson is challenged to furnish sightline distances from the back-row of seats at the new stadium.

) Without the Sharks as an “anchor tenant”, the new stadium has absolutely no prospect of being self-sustaining and even with the Sharks moving across, this is still highly unlikely. Ms Ellingson is challenged to produce a feasibility study showing how it is envisaged that the new stadium will sustain itself firstly without and, secondly, with the Sharks.

) The Sharks have consulted with their various stakeholders — e.g. suite holders, season ticket holders, academy and supporters club — and the general consensus is that the facilities currently available to them are preferred to what will be on offer at the new stadium. This is particularly the case with the suite holders who, contrary to what Ms Ellingson states, are adamant that they prefer having their own suites, a large percentage of which are leased by small businesses and groups of individuals who all have their own fittings and memorabilia in their suites.

) The Sharks realised many years ago that it was important that rugby at Kings Park / Absa Stadium become more than “a bunch of men shouting” and that it, in fact, became a family outing. This has been achieved more successfully, I dare to say, than by any other rugby or soccer organisation in the world, let alone South Africa. The emphasis at Absa Stadium is on the family to the extent that the Sharks brand is now officially recognised as a Super Brand. If Ms Ellingson were to watch spectators arriving at Absa Stadium she would be amazed to see how few men attend matches without wives, girlfriends and/or children accompanying them. Rugby at Absa Stadium is a family outing. I would be very interested to know which facilities in particular at the new stadium will make it more suitable or attractive for families to attend rugby matches — certainly not a hard-surface carpark.

) I do not know where Ms Ellingson gets the figure of R48 million for upgrading Absa Stadium from. Be that as it may, the World Cup bid was approved on the basis that Absa Stadium would be upgraded as was the case with other rugby stadia in the country, e.g. the Free State Stadium.

) In the majority of cases, meetings have been held at the instance of the Sharks and not the municipality in attempts to get answers out of the municipality, e.g. a meeting was held on August 30, 2006, at the request of the Sharks at which it was agreed the Sharks would prepare a Stadium Business Case and list their concerns. This was delivered to the municipality on  September 15, 2006. On June 14, 2007, a meeting was held with Ms Ellingson, once again at the instance of the Sharks requesting a response to the September 15, 2006, letter, Stadium Business Case and list of concerns. At a follow-up meeting on July 30, 2007, the Sharks were requested to furnish details of actual and projected income and expenditure for the period 2000 to 2012 to the municipality. On September 5, 2007, this was sent to Ms Ellingson together with a request for a further meeting. This was eventually held on January 28, 2008 when the Sharks business plan was discussed. Further meetings were held culminating in a meeting on July 30, 2008 at which the Sharks tabled a document listing issues of concerns which the Sharks required to be addressed, as well as lists of “Points for Relocating” and “Points against Relocating”. The meeting closed on the understanding that the municipality would revise the new stadium model and thereafter the municipality would make an offer to the Sharks who would then be in a position to engage with all stakeholders to make an informed decision as to whether to relocate to the new stadium or not. Needless to say, the Sharks are still awaiting such an offer notwithstanding the passage of 10 months.

Ms Ellingson does get one thing right and that is that the Sharks will “have to make a call” and that it “is a business choice”. With due respect, I ask her what responsible businessman would make a decision on such an important issue without having been furnished with all the necessary facts and figures? It would be totally irresponsible of the board of directors of The Sharks (Pty) Ltd to even entertain the possibility of moving until it has received answers to the above and many other questions which still remain unanswered by the municipality and the “offer” referred to above.

Finally, Ms Ellingson states that the municipality has “gone overboard in trying to assist the Sharks to come across”. This is a gross mis­statement as is apparent from the aforegoing. Instead of co-operation and transparency, there have been threats (which were not even veiled) of roadblocks after every game (which have become a reality), withdrawal of traffic department support on match days, undercutting of hire charges for the stadium for non-rugby related functions, e.g. concerts, rallies, etc. no guarantees that Absa Stadium would not be affected by electricity load-shedding on match days even if there was Test or Super 14 final on and more.

Make up your own mind as to whom you should believe.

• Doc Louw is a former Natal rugby captain and currently vice president of the KZN Rugby Union and director of The Sharks (Pty) Ltd.

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