Will the Phoenix fly the coop?

Wellington Phoenix fans may have to hit the road for ‘home' games after a bumper crowd at Eden Park put fans in the capital to shame.

Club co-owner Gareth Morgan said yesterday that games in Auckland and other centres were becoming increasingly likely, because it was difficult to compete when a couple of weeks ago the team's 5-0 demolition of Melbourne Victory in Wellington had been watched by only 6036 fans compared to Auckland's 18,056 at the weekend when the Phoenix beat Adelaide United 2-1.

"At the end of the day we're not going to keep writing cheques for this thing," Dr Morgan said.

"Every time we play in Wellington we lose money. Why would we keep doing that?"

Auckland was the most "attractive" alternative for Phoenix ‘home' games, while there was also the prospect of some games being played at other venues across the country.

The biggest problem facing the capital was trying to draw a decent crowd at an "unworkable" stadium.

About 18 months ago club owners threatened to take games away from the capital if management at Westpac Stadium didn't lift the bar.

"We're still facing the same issues at the stadium in terms of the crowd and fan experience."

Dr Morgan has had more than a few run-ins with previous management but hoped the appointment of Shane Harmon as stadium chief executive, who has a marketing background, would bring new life to the stadium.

"Historically management was awful and had a ‘can't do' attitude as opposed to a ‘can do' one. It's difficult as a customer trying to be innovative with that sort of attitude."

Australian stadiums that were "tailor-made" for fans left Wellington for dead, he said.

Mr Harmon said he was open to new ideas to draw in more fans and hoped to sit down with Dr Morgan in the next week. The big crowd at Auckland came down to it being a one-off game and an "incredible amount of promotion" went into getting people there.

"I would like to see more of that promotion happening in Wellington and would love to see the Phoenix stay in Wellington."

Revamping the food and beverage service at the stadium was already under way and giving children access to the players at the end of a match would also be considered.

Dr Morgan was optimistic things would change at Westpac Stadium - but in the meantime was looking at other options.

Some of those options emerged yesterday when former Wellington City councillor John Morrison released details of a proposed stadium at Petone Recreation Ground being considered by the Phoenix.

Mr Morrison said a tailor-made ground for a capacity of about 12,000 was needed and Petone was the frontrunner.

However, Dr Morgan said building a stadium in Petone was no more an option than building one anywhere else in Wellington and discussions had been held with a number of groups about potential venues.

"Talk is cheap, that's the issue here and nothing will happen until someone approaches us with an option that will work for everyone."

Eden Park chief executive David Kennedy said Saturday's match brought a mixture of both "loyal fans and new fans to the Auckland game".

The opportunity to work with the Phoenix again would be welcomed.


The Dominion Post