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    Lions hoping for 40 000 at Ellis Park

    2017-07-28 16:24

    Lloyd Burnard - Johannesburg

    Johannesburg - The Lions are hoping to have at least 40 000 people at Ellis Park for Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final against the Hurricanes. 

    That is the view of the franchise's Chief Financial and Commercial Officer, Edgar Rathbone, who confirmed to Sport24 at Ellis Park on Friday that 35 000 tickets had been sold by the start of the day. 

    While that number is nowhere near a sellout - the stadium has a capacity of 62 000 - it would be significantly higher than last weekend's quarter-final, which saw around 26 000 tickets sold for the clash against the Sharks. 

    "Last year we had 50 000 for the semi-final (against the Highlanders)," Rathbone said.

    "I don't think we will get there. People are probably saving a bit of money and hoping that we'll get a final, but that's a dangerous game to play with the Hurricanes here.

    "Anything over 40 000 we'll be happy with."

    The current uncertainty surround South Africa's economic climate is also playing a massive role in the struggle to get people to the stadiums, but despite those challenges Rathbone says Ellis Park is still showing season-on-season growth.

    That, he says, is down to the form of the Lions over the past four seasons. 

    The other obvious challenge is the current tournament structure, which has seen the Lions go through the whole of 2017 without having hosted New Zealand opposition until now. 

    There has not much of a difference in attendance figures between Australian and Kiwi fixtures at Ellis Park over the last two seasons, due largely to the Lions playing winning rugby, but Rathbone still believes that next year's structure will be hugely beneficial to the South African franchises. 

    "The variety that the fans will see is a lot better. You'll definitely see New Zealand sides every year with the new format, which is what we all want," he said.

    The revised tournament structure will also, hopefully, bring television audiences back to Super Rugby. 

    "There has been quite a drop in viewership, which is the concern," Rathbone said.

    "I think it's a lot to do with the confusing format. There is no log where you can say 'No 4 is playing No 3'.

    "In this format it's been a bit up in the air the whole time."

    The 2018 edition of Super Rugby will be significantly less complicated that that of 2016 and 2017, but also not as straightforward as the days of Super 12 and Super 14. 

    15 teams will be split up into three Conferences, with the winner of each Conference qualifying for the quarter-finals, while next five best-placed teams on the overall log will then be added to the quarter-finals. 

    Kick-off on Saturday is at 14:30.

    Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter...

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