Decision time for Lions

With little more than a week before the Absa Currie Cup starts, the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) will be hard-pressed to make several decisions that will shape the union’s future, Lions CEO Manie Reyneke confirmed on Monday.

After the withdrawal of equity partners Guma TAC last week, the GLRU is expected to bring new investors on board. A final decision on the staging of matches at FNB Stadium is also high on its list of priorities.

“There are some very important meetings scheduled to take place this week and we are hoping to have all issues resolved as soon as possible,” said Reyneke.

However, he would not comment on who the talks were with and described negotiations as being at a sensitive stage.

The union could decide not to sell its equity to an outside investor.

As for the relocation of Lions matches to the FNB Stadium, Stadium Management South Africa (SMSA) CEO Jacques Grobbelaar said that, within the next two weeks, the union would have to make a final call on an offer which has been on the table for more than a year.

“The more events that may not take place at the stadium in a fixture year will reduce the financial offering we have made to the Lions,” said Grobbelaar.

“We may be able to deal with the first one or two matches not being played at the stadium, but if they only decide halfway through the Currie Cup to make the move we will have to re-propose any financial model from Stadium Management’s side.”

Grobbelaar would not reveal the exact amount of the deal, but said the GLRU would earn “tens of millions of rands” if it decided to take its matches to the FNB Stadium.

It also had the option of move its entire operation at the Johannesburg stadium to the new facility in Nasrec. A plan was also in place to accommodate its current suite owners.

In a leaked letter, Guma TAC said a move away from Coca-Cola Park — a stadium in which the GLRU holds shares — would not make financial sense and that the union should consider the vast improvements made prior to last year’s Soccer World Cup.

The union’s chances of being kicked out of the Super Rugby competition would also increase if it let go of its only asset then failed to draw big enough crowds to its proposed new home.

Grobbelaar said SMSA would carry the responsibility of marketing the Johannesburg side’s matches, as its return on the year’s
investment lay in profit taken at the gates.

“We believe that the Lions need this platform, that they need something fresh and they need an accessible stadium,” he said. “We proposed a hosting fee, connected to a signing bonus, to move their operations to the FNB Stadium and play their games at the stadium.

“It is a rich model and grows into tens of millions of rands and it is something the Lions need to consider at this specific time more than ever.”

Grobbelaar emphasised that the survival of the FNB Stadium did not depend on a move by the Lions.

“We are already on the record as one of few World Cup stadiums that is surviving without any government funding and we will remain sustainable with or without the Lions.

Grobbelaar said more than two million people had attended various events at FNB Stadium in the past year and it was one of few World Cup stadiums which was surviving without any government grants.

“Having the Lions here for the Currie Cup will take their fixture list in excess of 41,” he said, adding that the international benchmark for stadiums was to host 18 fixtures per fixture-season.

“We would expect that the Lions would make a final call in the next week — two weeks maximum.”

Grobbelaar also confirmed that SMSA was not in talks about obtaining an equity share with the union.

Meanwhile Guma TAC held talks with SMSA about acquiring a 51% stake in the company, but no formal offer was made and both parties agreed not to pursue the deal. — Sapa

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