Manawatu Rugby Union battling for fans
Turbos games in Feilding, cheaper seating at the ends of FMG Stadium and a revamp of the failed membership system have all been considered to boost profits as "the boneyard" begins to turn into the Manawatu Rugby Union's graveyard.
Union chief executive John Knowles estimates the union has lost about $8000 in the past two home games, with 1700 people turning out to watch the Turbos beat Southland.
It means the already heavily-indebted union - last financial year it had negative equity of $391,183, a legacy of three successive deficits between 2008 and 2010 - is now unlikely to record a surplus for 2013.
"If we are going to have a professional team in a professional competition, things can't keep going the way they are, because it's sure as hell working against Manawatu at the moment," Mr Knowles said.
There were several factors causing fans to stay home which had nothing to do with a lack of love for the Turbos, Mr Knowles said.
TicketDirect keeping prices high at the stadium.
Food vendor rent going to the Palmerston North City Council, when it should go to the union.
The quality of FMG Stadium's infrastructure meant fans would rather sip a glass of wine on the couch than turn up in poor weather.
"Our biggest crowd this season has been 3700 for the Auckland game and it was only a couple of years ago we were regularly getting crowds of 6000.
"The reality of it is we have still got a stadium that is not up to scratch with other stadia around the country.
"The council and the board of Manawatu Rugby need to sit down and make some serious decisions in the off-season, because I'm not sure that we can keep doing this on our own."
Mr Knowles said the union had a false expectation that Manawatu Turbos memberships would climb from 840 last year to 1400 this year. Three home games in, they had sold 565. "The membership idea was a winner last year but it's dropped back considerably this year. We are going to have to totally reorganise things next year because on that count we have failed miserably."
Mr Knowles said the union had listened to punters' grumblings about gate prices and was dropping family ticket prices from $55 at the gate to $40 for old-timers' day against Taranaki this Saturday.
"The theme is ‘back to the future' and those are 2006 prices. If there is truth that the economy is such that families cannot afford entertainment, then surely $40 is affordable. We will watch and see what happens but our suspicions are that it won't make much difference."
Getting a profit from Turbos games was crucial to fund Manawatu amateur rugby, because money from community gaming trusts had become more scarce recently, Mr Knowles said.
The Turbos had little option but to remain at FMG Stadium in the long term but the circumstances had forced the union to look at taking games to Feilding and even Massey's Sport and Rugby Institute.
However, a lack of infrastructure and temporary seating costs made them both unaffordable options at present, Mr Knowles said.
Arena Manawatu manager David Walsh said if there was a magic solution to dwindling crowd numbers, he would have implemented it already.
What the Manawatu Rugby Union was experiencing was a nationwide problem, with crowd numbers down for non-Ranfurly Shield domestic matches across the country, he said.
The decision to drop family ticket prices for the next match was a good initiative by the union, Mr Walsh said.
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