Sad to say, Newlands, but your time has come and gone
Moving into a stadium with a greater capacity, superior facilities and an incredible atmosphere is a no-brainer
As the old cliché goes: it’s not a case of if, but rather when, the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) will move from their traditional Newlands home to the shiny Atlantic seaboard jewel that is the Cape Town Stadium.
Reports over the past week suggested that last Saturday’s Springboks versus England Test would be the last at the frayed old ground.
That might be a tad premature because there is talk of one more match involving the Springboks at Newlands to be scheduled, to give the old dame a proper sendoff before the lights are extinguished for a final time.
Moving out of the shadow of Table Mountain and into the sun, a nine-iron from Granger Bay, to a stadium with a greater capacity, superior facilities and an incredible atmosphere seems a no-brainer to most.But ever since the design for the Cape Town Stadium was approved in 2006, there has been speculation that WP Rugby would become the anchor tenants, and it has yet to happen.
There are many reasons why they haven't yet moved across town, and they are mostly centred on money.
The WPRFU owns Newlands, but they do not own Cape Town Stadium. It’s all semantics though, because a well-negotiated deal, such as a 100-year lease, could see WPRFU as de facto owners of the Cape Town Stadium anyway.
And the well-worn argument that moving would be financially disastrous doesn’t stack up when you consider the union’s current financial problems. Currently they are in a court battle with former advertising rights partner Aerios, who are claiming R250-million from the union.
That’s after WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd, the former commercial arm of the union, was liquidated in late 2016. The union created a new company called WP Rugby (WPR) to run its commercial side of the business, which, as a new entity, would be ring-fenced from financial claims from previous contracts – in other words – from Aerios.That legal battle is still going on, though, with Aerios claiming the liquidation was a fraudulent plot and instituting a Section 417 hearing. A section 417 inquiry is a complicated process whereby witnesses are called and are compelled to answer questions, usually to determine if there was any misconduct in the original liquidation process.
This process exists as a last resort for disgruntled creditors because a liquidator usually comes into a process at an advanced stage when a company is already in financial trouble.
But things aren't going so well for the newly formed WPR either. It owes R44-million to multinational Remgro, which bailed them out when they couldn’t pay wages. Remgro wants its loan repaid, or at the very least, security for its loan by WPR re-bonding one, or several of its existing assets. Remgro less than politely declined an offer to be compensated with a stake in the union. No one really wants to do business with WPR at the moment.
So, in other words, staying at Newlands because it makes financial sense is not backed up with evidence. WP Rugby is a financial mess, which has all happened while they have been at Newlands. Selling Newlands would make much more financial sense.
Cape Town Stadium, with its wide concourses and stairwells, can evacuate a capacity 58,000 crowd in eight minutes. It has ample bathrooms (especially female facilities) and concession stands.Newlands is a warren of tiny stairwells; particularly on the railway stand side of the stadium. If a fire broke out there, with thousands in attendance, you can only shudder to think of the casualties that would result in a panicked stampede through thick smoke and fear.
It is simply outdated as a sports stadium worthy of the 21st century, and the cost to somehow upgrade it would be astronomical. The pitch has to be relaid at a cost of R19-million and it costs WP R8-million a year just to maintain the stadium in its current state.
Tradition and the great occasions that have taken place at the stadium are no longer a valid argument for its continued use either.
Moving to a modern, better facility is not without precedent.
The New York Yankees famously moved from the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to a new site on an adjacent plot in 2009, while Arsenal relocated from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys left 38 seasons of success at the Texas Stadium in Irving behind to move into the AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Wembley was knocked down and rebuilt, albeit on the same site.
Indications are that the top brass at the WPRFU have accepted a move is not only inevitable, but also necessary. It’s one of the more sensible approaches the union has had to anything in the past five years.
It will be sad to say goodbye to Newlands, but it’s time we all moved on.