Loss-making Beckham sparks council inquiry

Last updated 23:42 07/12/2008

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Despite being a world-class footballer, David Beckham was not a big enough drawcard to fill Mt Smart Stadium, disappointing organisers, who failed to break even.

A meagre 16,600 fans turned up on Saturday evening to watch Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy thump the Oceania All Stars 3-0 at the stadium, which is managed by Auckland Regional Council.

The council had high hopes after a crowd of 32,000 filled the Westpac Stadium a year ago, when the Galaxy played Wellington Phoenix.

The council shelled out US$1.2 million (NZ$2.5 million) to bring Beckham to Auckland, and needed an attendance of 19,000 just to break even. The venue has a capacity of about 25,000.

"Unfortunately, there is likely to be a loss, but it will be ringfenced off from Auckland Regional Council rates and ratepayers," council chairman Mike Lee said. "Auckland Regional Council will have to trade its way out of this, and there will be some belt-tightening."

In a bid to fill seats just days before the game, the council expanded a two-for-one deal to include those who had already bought tickets, after the promotion angered fans who had stumped up the full $85 a ticket.

In hindsight, predictions that Beckham would create as much excitement in Auckland as he did in Wellington were wrong. "There's a whole complex of reasons around that, with a different place, different time and a totally different economic mood," Mr Lee said yesterday. "On one hand, many people lost their jobs at the National Bank this week, and on the other hand there were lots of people having their office Christmas parties last night."

However, he said the game had put Auckland on the map, as it had been broadcast across the Pacific and to tens of millions of people on the west coast of the United States. "Tens of thousands of schoolchildren saw David Beckham and LA Galaxy for free and, overall, you'd have to say it was a success.

"Fortunately, we have a big paying event next month with the Big Day Out, followed by Iron Maiden in February and the Warriors starting in March, this time with Stacey Jones. And for Mt Smart stadium, given the culture we have, Stacey Jones is a much better bet than David Beckham."

Organisers will hold an inquiry into why the game did not attract as many people as they were assured it would, though Mr Lee said they would not be deterred from hosting another soccer game.

"There was a lot of advertising, but I think one weakness was the Oceania team needed to have a recognised Chinese, Korean or Japanese soccer star to attract the fans from Auckland's large Asian community."

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