One-off festivals are extra hard work

In retrospective one realises just how hard it is to organise a successful one-off school rugby festival. Forget Covid times, in normal times it’s hard enough.

There are numerous motives behind having a rugby festival and most of them can be summed up by the word “benefit”. All parties involved are looking to benefit in some way or another be it the school, the players, the spectators, the vendors and definitely the sponsors.

So from a sponsor’s point of view, it’s a one-off festival which obviously does not have a track record is a risk. If measured by crowd attendances and exposure, certainly festivals that have been around for a while are the ones where a sponsor is most likely to get a good return on investment.

In this regard two of the more successful festivals in recent times have been the Durban High School and Paul Roos 150th birthday festivals. Both schools opted for one day events and attracted local schools to be the backbone. The result was it maximised on getting in a big crowd made up of people who lived relatively close by while minimising on hostile stay-over related costs. In the end these were real good sells to sponsors.

By comparison, single festivals that run over a few days require a lot more planning, staffing and diversity. They have the potential to be fantastic successes but usually in order to achieve this, the marketing budget has to be substantially greater. Generally in terms of crowds, they cannot mimic what a one-day only festival can, partly because they run over weekdays* as well when many adults have other commitments.

Now with a rugby event like the Monument Centenary Festival, it had/has two big things going for it in terms of the dates set. Firstly the annual Noord-Suid festival in Pretoria, a big gun on the annual calendar was set for the week after, so it offered Monnas organisers the chance to piggy-back off that and attract out of town schools to arrive in Gauteng a few days ahead of schedule. Amongst them many of the highest profile schoolboy rugby teams in South Africa. Secondly with schoolboy rugby having been prohibited for over a year, Monnas was primed to be the return with a bang! People who love the purity and freedom of expression of schoolboy rugby would have lapped it up, even if the schools they supported were not part of the celebration. Potentially there was excitement written all over this event. Idea some major big selling pitches to any would-be sponsor.

The big problem however was the uncertainty. As recently as the start of March 2021, no one could say for sure when schoolboy rugby would get underway. With Easter on the horizon, there was plenty of talk about a third wave. Once the Minister of Education made her announcement to allow contact sport at schools to return, the countdown was basically down to a month until kick-off at Monnas. It would have been pointless committing resources before that date. To tie down an organisation or organisations or even prominent generous parents or old boys to financial commitments under those circumstances would have taken some doing, no matter how much passion might have been attached.

Then you weigh in with the worst case scenarios like a possible Covid positive case amongst the players/officials staying over in the boarding house or mingling with players from other schools. Protocol might have meant the festival ended there and then – a disaster for all including the sponsor. Couple this with the issues mentioned earlier about how hard it is to see value in a once off event and add the duration and then the number of teams participating. It all cried out for a partner who was extremely flexible, extremely generous and willing to offer the next best thing to unconditional financial support in the face of a number of question-marks.

*DHS actually managed a weekday event that flowed into the evening really well.

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