PE jol gets bigger, but it’s not spectacular

GARETH DUNCAN writes a 30 000-strong crowd is expected on the second day of the PE Sevens, but the hype of ‘rugby’s biggest party’ is still missing.

High expectations were created with all the PE Sevens propaganda that hit the streets and was broadcasted all over the media and social networks over the last several weeks. ‘Rugby’s biggest party’ is what tournament organisers dubbed the inaugural event hosted in the Eastern Cape city. However, despite the Blitzboks’ great form, the support shown by most South African sports stars, the warmer weather on day two and entertainment provided, the expected overall atmosphere was just not there.

Maybe the Nelson Mandela Stadium was too big or too much hype was created? Maybe it was the lack of enthusiasm when the home team wasn’t on the field? Maybe it’s the fact that South Africans will never care about sevens like it embraces 15s? Maybe Saffas don’t take a liking to the idea of day-long rugga party? Whatever the reason may be – I was left wanting more.

Hong Kong and its 40 000-seater national stadium is considered the Mecca of sevens rugby, simply because the party does not stop. It’s the benchmark all tournaments measure themselves up against. PE’s display was well short of the standards set by the World Series most celebrated event.

Only about 8000 fans showed up in PE on day one. With Friday being a working day, that was the excuse used for the disappointing turnout. Only about 5000 fans remained for the last match between South African and Australia. A mixture between cold and rainy weather and disinterest was the reason for the lost spectators.

On day two, 25 000 people were present just before Blitzboks entered the field for the first match. A huge improvement from day one – but their presence was only felt when the Springbok Sevens were on the field. During the other fixtures, only a small contingent of fans could be heard while there was the odd cheer for a spectacular try. There were also other small issues that spoilt the day – with the toilet water supply dried up, lack of food and the security guards’ lack of knowledge affecting service delivery.

George, with it’s smaller ground compared to the 49 500-seater Nelson Mandela Stadium, proved to be a bigger and better festival during its nine years of hosting the South African leg. There is also that strong feeling that Cape Town could’ve presented a better tournament at its World Cup stadium – but that of course, is just speculation.

If the PE Sevens is to become a success, new innovations must be implemented to grow interest and to live up to the hype created heading into this weekend. Maybe provide better entertainment? Maybe organise top prizes or invite celebrities as draw cards? Maybe make ticket prices more affordable? Anything to add greater effect.

The harsh reality is that the first attempt was a flop – whether the Blitzboks win or not. It was not ‘rugby’s biggest party’ that we believed it would be. But it doesn’t mean it will be a disappointment for the following three years. Lessons must be learnt heading forward and more work needs to be done. There should not be that feeling of wanting more.