Dear Oom Harold…
As a passionate Cheetahs supporter let me start by once more reminding everyone that a ‘supporter’ is called such as by definition it should be there for a team when times are tough – not just when things are smooth. So here I am, offering my support in tough times.
Harold my concern is that the Freestate Rugby Union has alienated the rest of the Freestate province in its approach to the hosting of games, the marketing of the game and the scouting of new players.
I am from Bethlehem, which is but one town where a passionate support for the Cheetahs is being eroded by your unions’ lack of outreach and understanding of the costs involved supporting a rugby team. There are at least 10 more towns that will tell the same story and if counted together can add at least 5000 more seats to every home game. People from towns like mine are happy to drive 3 hours to a game and return late at night; pay the fuel and toll fees and risk running into farm animals – if they feel like “their” team appreciates their support. But for the past few years it’s been the opposite. The Cheetahs won 3 Curie Cups in a row and saw full house stadiums and then you guys decided that you no longer care for the ‘platteland’ when it comes to marketing.
With the advent of the internet and the abundance of information around, not to mention the luxury of being able to see all the games live wherever they happen, your union must understand that the distance between Bloemfontein for me as a supporter of the Cheetahs is the same as the distance to Brisbane to support the Reds. I travel to my nearest pub to support both teams. So why do I still support the Cheetahs, who seem to throw games away willy nilly and especially on Saturday displayed a ‘don’t care’ attitude on the field? No passion, no guts, and now even no enterprise! Why drive to Bloemfontein to sit in a half empty stadium and support a team who are now happy playing the ‘we are a small union’ card?
I ask myself when last has a Cheetah team played a game in Bethlehem? If memory serves correctly it was a Freestate development team (with a very young Jannie de Beer) who last represented the union in a town that’s widely expected to support the Cheetahs. Our rugby field is now owned by Freestate Stars who have done well to make it a proper venue. Why not throw us a carrot and offer to host a Super Rugby game here next year, instead of once more feeding the over-fed Bloemfontein crowd of 5000 who are spoilt for choice and as a result are taking for granted their easy access to Super Rugby games? Bring the game to us once every 3 years and I promise you we will make a bigger effort to get to Bloem, because it will feel like ‘our’ team again.
Marketing is one thing, but here in Bethlehem our players are more likely to join the Bulls or the Lions these days as the Freestate Union seem disinterested. You would rather bring in players from Boland than have a look locally, and so the disconnect between fans and the union grows ever wider.
What is the solution? A good start is to host one big game here in the next 2 years and to start marketing it right now. I will help with this. The second solution is for the union to negotiate on our behalf some great hotel rates and bus fares to and from Bloemfontein for those who purchase match tickets at venues outside of Bloemfontein. If my friends and I can jump in a car and stay at a proper hotel for R600 for the night (which currently is the rate per person per night sharing) then our trip will cost us R1200 and is worth doing at least once a month. We will stay over and contribute not only to the team but to the economy of the city. European teams do this with the Heineken Cup and it’s great to see thousands of fans travel to every venue to support their team. The Cheetahs maybe assume that your fans are all wealthy and can make the effort – but this is wrong. I have R500 to spend on the Cheetahs per month – it’s up to you to find a way to make me spend that money going to the stadium as opposed to going to the local pub and spending money that could be spent to keep the next Jan Serfontein at the union.
A kiwi friend living in Bethlehem remarked a while ago that he always gets the sense that more Bethlehem people support the Sharks due to the affiliation with Bismarck and Jannie and Francois. I look around me and cannot deny that you see less and less Cheetah supporting kids. Why would they if no Bethlehem players represent the Cheetahs and dad never travels to Bloemfontein to watch a game?
Embrace and reach out to the platteland and we will help you fix the union. Simple as that.
To summarize my solutions:
1) Work to get a match played in Bethlehem. We are the financial trading spot incorporating Senekal, Frankfort, Vrede, Ficksburg and Reitz. We will sell 10 000 tickets to this game, guaranteed.
2) Negotiate travel discounts and accommodation packages for fans travelling to Bloemfontein from platteland towns to make it worth our while to stay over and not drive home after the game.
3) Make a concerted effort to sign players from these towns as opposed to merely looking at Bloemfontein schools and importing whatever else you need from elsewhere.