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Time for WP Rugby to ditch the Stormers brand?

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Fans during a Super Rugby match between the Stormers and Bulls at Newlands.
Fans during a Super Rugby match between the Stormers and Bulls at Newlands.

Western Province or the Stormers?

Ask any die-hard Cape rugby fan which brand they associate with more and the majority is likely to shout "Prooovince".

Following this week's confirmation that South Africa's four Super Rugby outfits will join an expanded PRO16 competition in Europe, perhaps the time has come for Cape rugby bosses to consider the future of the two brands they've been managing since 1998.

WP Rugby is in the unique position of being the only union in the country with two clearly distinguishable brands.

The Sharks play as the Sharks across all competitions, while the same can be said for the Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs, albeit with a slight difference in "Golden Lions", "Blue Bulls" and "Free State Cheetahs" once they contest the Currie Cup.

But these brands aren't viewed as separate entities like Western Province and the Stormers.

The Stormers brand was no doubt an early success.

Who will ever forget the famous "Men in Black" theme adopted by the class of 1999?

It was a renowned success and this writer can even recall drinking "Stormers Coke" back in the day.

But times have changed and as the years rolled on the Stormers started moving away from their "Men in Black" theme as their jerseys gradually turned back towards the royal blue colours synonymous with Western Province.

The present-day Stormers also play in a predominantly blue and white jersey but the franchise team's name still differs from the province.

In South Africa's upcoming Super Rugby Unlocked event starting next weekend, the Stormers will take to the field, only to change to Western Province once the teams switch over to the Currie Cup.

Points obtained in Super Rugby Unlocked will be carried over and Western Province will then inherit points from the Stormers.

This begs the question: In the current economic climate, is it still worth it for the already cash-strapped union to continue managing two brands?

Over the years, the Stormers have been perennial under-achievers: they've only reached one Super Rugby final and had developed a reputation of losing in knockout matches.

One reckons it's fair to question why a region with such a vast player base has flattered to deceive in Super Rugby for close to a quarter of a century.

When measuring on-field success, the Stormers brand has not been successful.

Western Province, on the other hand, is a brand with considerably more prestige attached.

The union boasts the most Currie Cup titles in South African rugby history (34), with the Blue Bulls a distant second with 23 titles.

There's also no "knockout" or "pressure cooker" game hoodoo associated with the WP brand.

Perhaps with South African rugby moving into the European market, this period is the ideal opportunity for the Cape union to consider bringing the traditional WP brand to the fore.

This idea was also shared by a legendary former Stormers and WP captain Corne Krige in an interview with Sport24 a few weeks ago.

Krige was an integral part of the "Men in Black" Stormers team of 1999 that reached the semi-finals, and even though he has fond memories of the time, he agrees it may be time to move on.

"The Stormers brand did well for a period... the Men in Black campaign was huge... but [nowadays] unions can't afford to manage two brands. The Lions are the Lions, the Bulls are the Bulls and the Sharks are the Sharks. But WP are WP and the Stormers..." Krige noted.

The former Springbok captain agreed that a new name could be viable when the team enters the PRO16.

"If we're not going to play in Super Rugby anymore then it doesn't necessarily have to be the Stormers. The Stormers were a Super Rugby franchise, if I can call it like that. I think WP have, for long now, wanted to bring back the WP brand.

"It's very tough because you've got two brands that you have to manage. It's two separate marketing [strategies]... separate jerseys. At the end of the day, it becomes a bit of a problem."

Krige said the tradition and mystique of the WP brand should see it prevail over the Stormers.

"Where the Bulls stayed the Bulls and the Sharks stayed the Sharks... WP sort of moved away from their years old brand that is very strong."

Times are changing on the global rugby landscape and perhaps the way forward for WP Rugby is to back its tradition...

WP jou lekker ding!

Herman Mostert is a long-time Sport24 employee. His sporting interests range from tennis, rugby, cricket and golf to soccer.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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