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Ken Borland

Redefine investment defies so-called Lions shambles

Posted on February 15, 2012 by Ken

Despite what has been described in some quarters as a financial shambles at the Lions rugby union, the Currie Cup champions have received a major boost from a multi-million rand three-year sponsorship from Redefine Properties.

While the money will also help secure the careers of the promising new batch of players being groomed under coach John Mitchell, the investment has an even more significant bearing on the future of Ellis Park.

Golden Lions Rugby Union president Kevin de Klerk has portrayed himself as a tradionalist – in fact, he told the story of his childhood hero, Piet Botha, at the announcement of Redefine’s sponsorship: “When I was young, I aspired to play lock next to Piet Botha, who was my hero. He used to arrive at practice on horseback from Krugersdorp. I myself walked a long way to get to training – my kids say it gets longer the older I get!” De Klerk joked.

But there’s no doubting De Klerk wants the Lions to stay at Ellis Park, even though the scarred surrounds and general deterioration of the surrounding area seemingly makes that a silly idea given the availability of the FNB and Orlando stadiums.

But Redefine, who are listed on the JSE as one of South Africa’s largest property owners, are also highly enamoured of the Ellis Park area.

While the Springboks love playing at Ellis Park because of the intimidating surrounds – visitors don’t even feel particularly safe on a bus – Redefine see the Doornfontein area as a major drawcard.

“We have invested heavily in this precinct, we own more than R200 million worth of property here, and there’s also a lot of student accommodation being built. We believe this area will flourish,” Redefine chief operating officer David Rice said.

While De Klerk admitted going to the renamed CocaCola Park can be inconvenient for rank-and-file supporters, the former Transvaal and Springbok legend could not hide his delight that Redefine, who approached the union about the sponsorship, had given the stadium a massive vote of confidence.

“It means that we will stay here for the time being. We have another 75 years on our lease for the land and we own all the buildings and fixtures. It shows a lot of confidence on their part, they see ways of growing the surrounds and they believe the area has great potential.

“I know I wouldn’t like to park my car outside and have it broken into all the time, but a top businessman told me he chose a plebs’ ticket for the Currie Cup final, used the Park-and-Ride and he said it was a wonderful experience. But we must make the area a whole lot more user-friendly,” De Klerk said.

The Lions took another hit over their financial position at the weekend, but De Klerk said it was far more optimistic than many critics had suggested.

“In spite of all the bad publicity, Redefine have assessed us very closely and decided to nail their colours to our cross. We also have Altman Allers as an equity partner and he is an extremely competent, high-profile businessman.

“Our legacy issue should be sorted out in the very near future and the Redefine sponsorship has gone a long way to alleviating it. We cannot coccoon ourselves from what has happened in the rest of the world and, like all businesses, we’ve had to right-size ourselves.

“I’m ultra-optimistic. When I became president, I found a fractured union and there was a lot of work to be done. But I believe the team is our shop window and it has done exceptionally well,” De Klerk said.

The inclusion of the Southern Kings in SuperRugby from next year is the biggest worry on De Klerk’s plate and he admitted that it would be devastating for the Lions if they were the franchise to make way.

“Merging with another franchise is not even an option, it would kill the unions involved. It is an extremely hard one, we all agree the Southern Kings must come in, it’s just the method we need to decide.

“But it is like turkeys voting for Christmas and if we don’t get it right, then our whole legacy will be gone and everything around the union – the schools and clubs – will be affected too,” De Klerk warned.

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