Fans fail to turn out at Westpac Stadium

SOPHIE SPEER AND SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2012
Westpac stadium

On Saturday just under 12,000 arrived at the stadium to watch the Hurricanes stumble against the Cheetahs.

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It was supposed to be a bumper weekend for sport in the capital, but the acres of yellow seats at Westpac Stadium for the Phoenix and Hurricanes games have raised concerns about shifting crowd habits.

Friday night's elimination final between the Phoenix and Sydney FC attracted only 10,000 spectators. At a similar game two seasons ago 24,000 fans showed up.

Then on Saturday just under 12,000 arrived at the stadium to watch the Hurricanes stumble against the Cheetahs, a far cry from just five years ago, when the prospect of average crowds dropping below 20,000 was considered alarming.

Wellington city council sports portfolio leader John Morrison fears there has been a "sea change" among spectators since the economic downturn and the introduction of bigger and better televisions.

"Two things illustrated it to me, the sevens and the Rugby World Cup. The spectator experience and their involvement has got to be good and big.

"I thought the crowds for the Phoenix final would be far greater. It was disappointing, and the rugby was similarly disappointing."

Phoenix general manager David Dome admitted numbers at Friday's game were poor and blamed inadequate promotion by Football Federation Australia, which collects all the revenue from playoff matches.

Because Phoenix games were family-oriented, they sold better when they were played in the afternoon rather than at night, he said.

Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni said crowd numbers were up on the poor figures of last season, but he acknowledged that more people were watching games on TV and the market for professional sports was a competitive one.

Recent crowds for the Hurricanes contrast poorly with 2007, when the franchise complained of a "disappointing" crowd of 19,600 for a match against the Highlanders.

Mr Te Puni believed there was room for improvement in the service offered at Westpac Stadium, and understood its management were working on it.

"People want the stadium experience with top-quality views, good food and beverage, and a stadium that's easy to get in and out of and reasonable value for money."

Weather also played a factor, and the reality was that people made their own decisions about what events they attended, he said.

"I always say with all these things you can come up with half a dozen reasons why attendance will be down, and they're all right."

Sports fans have complained in the past about the price and quality of food at the stadium, but stadium trust chief executive David Gray rejected this.

Food and drinks were "reasonably priced" and the main reason attendances dropped was a team's performance, he said.

While attendances at the stadium may be poor, Cricket Wellington says numbers have been up 10 to 15 per cent at domestic matches this season, and the Wellington Saints basketball team rarely has a problem selling out the 4500-seat TSB Bank Arena.

Saints general manager Tara Hakiwai said it was easy to convert people to the live-action excitement of a basketball game.

"It's very family-oriented, it's cheap enough, it's nice and warm so you're not going to get the flu."

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Wellington sports bars have also confirmed a downward trend in attendances, more noticeable since the euphoria of the Rugby World Cup.

Four Kings manager Cam Scoble blamed a "slight burnout" since the World Cup, and people making careful decisions about which of the many games they would spend money on.

With the past few weeks boasting Hurricanes and Black Caps matches and a Phoenix playoff, most people could not afford to attend them all, or even go to the pub to watch each one, he said.

Chicago Sports Bar general manager Stu MacDonald said crowds were about the same as last year, but definitely down when compared with a few years ago.

Why I gave up my Hurricanes season pass

- The Dominion Post

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