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The preseason match between Super Rugby's Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers set for Feb. 3 at StubHub Center just outside of Los Angeles has been canceled. The match was supposed to be the first between Super Rugby teams on American soil and played in tandem with the USA's Americas Rugby Championship-opening clash against the Argentina XV.
"The Vodacom Super Rugby pre-season warmup match, that was supposed to be played between the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers in Los Angeles has been cancelled due to issues regarding the agreed upon transfers and logistics," said a statement on the Bulls' website.
"Player welfare and the management thereof are extremely important to the Vodacom Bulls as well as the DHL Stormers, and will not be compromised on in this regard."
Specifically, the issue was flights. AEG Rugby, which organized the match with great fanfare, was to secure flights of a certain standard for the teams, but when they went to book them, they were unavailable.
“It was a transcontinental logistics issues,” said Dan Lyle, director of AEG Rugby. “The availability of flights in premium economy or better, which premium economy was the contract, weren’t available, and we tried 50 different ways from Sunday to make it work, and it didn’t.”
The event was officially announced Dec. 17, 2017, though rumor of it was reported more than a month prior. It’s reasonable to assume the match was in the works some time prior to that, giving AEG somewhere in the neighborhood of four months or more to secure flights. They were working through last week to try and find them, but ultimately the decision to punt was made.
“We were fighting to try to find the level of availability, and we had multiple travel groups – the SANZAR travel group that does all their bookings was leading the way,” said Lyle, who acknowledged SANZAR books usually books travel 6-8 months out, indicating a lesson has been learned to start the process earlier next time.
“It was just the logistics didn’t work. Because it’s not a regular season and all that kind of stuff, and because we want this to be a part of a long-term solution, while disappointing and all the things that naturally come out, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot for not accomplishing year one, because this is a 10-year work in progress.”
Los Angeles, and specifically the StubHub Center, which is owned by AEG, has been a lackluster venue for rugby, with numerous disappointing crowds for international tests and events. In 2013, Super Rugby’s Golden Lions were supposed to come to America and play in Southern California as part of a two-stop tour. Tickets were sold. Teams were named. The plug was similarly pulled close to the event, reportedly because of a lack of ticket sales.
Asked how many tickets were sold for the Super Rugby-USA doubleheader, Lyle was vague, but vehement money had nothing to do with the cancellation.
“They were in the thousands. They are in the thousands. We’ll see what they are, because we’ll offer refunds,” he said… “I can categorically state it had nothing to do with the finances of the ticket sales or the number of tickets or the finances themselves. It was 1,000-percent on the logistical availability of flights.”
Event organizers will contact current ticket holders via email with updated details and instructions on completing refunds, if the buyer so chooses. Inquires can be made here.
A PAC conference meeting between Arizona and UCLA will take the place of the Super Rugby clash, with the Bruins and Wildcats kicking off at 3 p.m. PT and the international match following at 5 p.m.