Durban — Time has not been on their side but the URC organisers and their consulting partners, Roc Nation Sports International, are determined to present a final on Saturday that oozes excitement off the field as well and on it, and which will be a foretaste of great spectacles to come.
Already, Hollywood script writers could not have come up with a better ending to a season that began with severe Covid disruptions and with the South African challenge initially faltering in the northern hemisphere before recovering spectacularly to deliver an all-South Africa final in the Mother City of Cape Town.
For Michael Yormark, the president of entertainment giant Roc Nation Sports International, the fairytale finale between the Stormers and the Bulls is a dream come true.
“We could not be happier and are super impressed with what has been accomplished by the URC this season, especially after so many challenges caused by the pandemic,” said Yormark.
“This time last year we talked about objectives and how the URC wanted to be different and what they wanted to stand for, and huge steps have been taken to accomplish that, culminating in a fantastic final between teams from the big market they wanted to tap into.
“To see where the URC is now after a difficult (Covid-influenced) start — the relevancy, the excitement, the viewership records — is incredible.
“From the URC's perspective, including South Africa was very important for them but an all-SA final was not anticipated by many although to me, personally, it is no surprise given that South Africa is such a rich rugby community with some of the world’s best talent.”
If there is one thing the global entertainment specialists wish they could have more of, it is time to do full justice to what promises to be an epic final.
“We don’t have a lot of time to plan for this final. It is not a neutral site that would have allowed months of planning as is the case with the Super Bowl (the American National Football League final), for example,” Yormark said. “We have a short window to organise this event but that being said, every ticket that can be sold will be sold, regardless of capacity. There is a lot of anticipation for the event and all involved will work very hard to not only have a very good rugby match but for the experience around the match to be equally impressive.
“And that experience begins the moment you walk into the stadium — it is how you are greeted, the music, the stadium hosts, the experts and celebrities ... you want to enhance the fan experience and to make the event a true celebration.”
Yormark, who has worked with some of the greatest artists in the music industry, contends that while the rugby itself is vital, just as important is the impression of the event that each fan takes home.
“You want every one of them — man, woman, teenager, child — to leave the stadium and think ‘Wow, what a great experience, I want to do that again,’” Yormark said. “This is what is driving us to hopefully do things differently.”
Yormark says that going forward, the aim is to borrow from what makes American sports such as basketball, football, and ice hockey so well attended.
"Clubs in SA and Europe must not be afraid to take on the best practices (from sport in the USA) and focus on the fan engagement at a live match,” he says. “When they buy a ticket, it is because they want to see great rugby and their favourite team, but it has to be more than that. How do we create an entertainment experience that is powerful, that makes them enthusiastic about being there and most importantly, motivates them to come back? That is the key.”
Yormark says the energy must be so compelling that it draws in non-rugby fans too.
“If you had a great time at a sports event, you are going to tell your family and friends about it, your colleagues at work on Monday... Even if I am not a hard-core rugby fan, if I experience something cool, and exciting, full of energy and passion, guess what? I am coming back, and that's how you reach out to new fans, diversify, and grow the sport.”
Yormark explains that every fan that leaves the stadium is an ambassador of the event.
“This Saturday, for example, everyone must be so thrilled, he or she is saying: 'I just went to an incredible event. If you have not been to a live rugby match you need to!' That is the reaction that you want and, overall, the sport then wins.”
Yormark will be watching on closely, cheering on the sport he says he has fallen in love with, while he is willing to make a prediction as to the likely winner!
“I knew nothing about rugby before November of 2019, and since then I have fallen in love with the sport. I typically describe it as NFL football without pads,” he smiles. “I think the players and their stories are fantastic and the physicality of the sport is absolutely amazing.
“This Saturday it will be a fantastic contest. I typically go with the home teams and I will back the Stormers to win in Cape Town where they have a lot of success. It will be desperately close but I think they will be crowned the first URC champions, which will be wonderful for them when you consider what that franchise has gone through over the last couple of years.”