SANZAAR have added Thursday night games to the 2017 Super Rugby season in a bid to try increase attendances after another poor showing at the gates in the 2016 season.
Despite the addition of three new teams last season, attendances were still down across the board last term with South Africa only having one team, the Stormers, who filled out over 50% of their stadium, while New Zealand sides have reportedly seen a 30% drop in spectators over the last eight years.
The introduction of Thursday night games and more afternoon games is SANZAAR’s latest attempt to shake up a competition that received widespread criticism last season for its punishing travel commitments and confusing competition structure.
Next season will kick off on Thursday, February 23, when the Melbourne Rebels host the Blues in the first of two Thursday night games, as SANZAAR look to experiment with Thursday games in a bid to extend the opening two rounds of Super Rugby over three days.
However, SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos has a more optimistic outlook on the new season saying:
“We saw some fantastic rugby earlier this year and we look forward in particular to the continued development of the new franchises [Sunwolves, Jaguares & Southern Kings] that added exciting new territories and colour to the tournament.
“The schedule will see four Sunwolves matches played in Tokyo and three matches in Singapore, while eight matches will be hosted by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Both these teams made their Super Rugby debuts in 2016, with the Southern Kings from South Africa returning after their brief spell in 2013.
“It is anticipated that all three teams will be better for the experience of 2016 as we look forward to seeing their continued improvement. Super Rugby continues to be the toughest rugby tournament in the world given the high level, week-to-week competition and the travelling that is undertaken.
“We enjoyed a global audience of just over 50 million viewers for the 20th edition of Super Rugby with just over 2 million fans attending the matches. I would like to say a big thank you to all the fans and supporters for their support through 2016 and look forward to having our competition entertain and entice you through 2017.”
The Thursday kick-off is a first for Super Rugby and is followed by another Thursday match a week later between the Western Force and the Reds in Perth.
The defending champion Hurricanes will kick off their defence in Tokyo when they take on the Sunwolves in Kitaaoyama while last year’s finalists the Lions will head to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs under second year coach Franco Smith.
To view the full fixture list for the 2017 Super Rugby season click here.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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