Who fumbled the ball?

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker, University of Waikato vice-chancellor Roy Crawford and Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers in a photo promoting Hamilton’s 150th Anniversary Gala Ball just before the event was cancelled.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker, University of Waikato vice-chancellor Roy Crawford and Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers in a photo promoting Hamilton’s 150th Anniversary Gala Ball just before the event was cancelled.

The organisations behind a now-cancelled ball for Hamilton are scratching their heads about why tickets didn't sell, but some onlookers have been quicker to offer possibilities.

An evening of glamour and sophistication was planned for August 23, an anniversary gala ball to celebrate the 150th anniversary of British settlers arriving in Hamilton, 90 years of Wintec and 50 years of the University of Waikato.

But the three organisations pulled the plug last week, after it became apparent ticket sales were nowhere near expected levels.

But when it came to why, Mayor Julie Hardaker didn't have any suggestions. Overly expensive ticket prices and a lack of advertising have been mooted by some, but she said that she didn't know why the planned "glamorous and sophisticated evening" celebration proved to be an unattractive prospect to the community.

"I don't have an answer for that," she said. "There can be a variety of reasons . . . the concept of a gala ball was a great idea. Perhaps other people did not share that view.

"I won't speculate. What I know is that ticket sales were slow."

She was asked several times for her view of why, but remained steadfastly evasive, sticking firmly to the line that it was a "collective decision" between the council, the university and Wintec to call time on the plans.

Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers said decisive action was needed from the three organisations to address the ball situation.

"There was nothing worse than carrying on with planning it and it turning into a fizzer. So I think it was the right decision to make."

He felt many people wanted to celebrate the triple milestone, but wasn't sure why the ball idea bounced.

It could have been competing with other events, or something about it may not have "clicked".

"I guess it was the wrong thing at the wrong time."

University of Waikato vice chancellor Roy Crawford was not available for comment.

But deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman, who was not involved in organising the ball, offered his - he blamed society.

"It's disappointing and sad but I suppose it's a reflection of New Zealand today. Balls were once very popular events for people to attend and this would be a reflection that that is no longer the case.

"The balls that are surviving and flourishing are the school balls. They are more popular than ever because they are seen as part of the rites of passage for teenagers . . . for whatever reason that enthusiasm no longer extends to the older generations. The ticket price [for the anniversary ball] was $175 and that included dancing lessons and drinks. When you consider all that I think it was quite a reasonable amount to pay."

About 300 tickets were sold before the decision to cancel the ball, but the aim was 600 to 800 "to ensure it [the ball] had the impact it needed," the organisations said.

Decisions on the event, and ticket sales, were the responsibility of an event project team which included representatives from the three hosting organisations.

The Auckland-based Orange Group had also been engaged for event management, to design and deliver the ball.

Chief executive Tony Gardner said they had thought the history behind the ball would make it a "great night" and were sad it wasn't able to go ahead.

The council, university and Wintec aimed promotion of the ball at corporates and individuals they had a relationship with, but that meant the cancellation was the first some Hamiltonians heard about the event.

Also working against it was a clash with the second Bledisloe Cup match in Auckland, announced after the ball date was set.

The cancellation was disappointing for high-profile Hamiltonian Judi, Lady Gallagher, who had planned to attend with husband Sir William Gallagher.

"I'm just wondering if they can try again just to see if they can get a bit more support for it," she said.

"But if it's not going to be supported then it's not possible, obviously."

The $175 price tag would be comparable with similar events, she said.

"I think we should have a variety of celebrations and a ball is a fairly traditional method of celebrating."

But the ball's collapse was not unexpected for Waikato Times columnist Paul Barlow.

"I'm not surprised that something that was so elitist fell flat in Hamilton," he said.

"The $175 price ticket didn't help . . . Hamilton's not the sort of place that you would expect to pay that much for that sort of thing."

Yet he wasn't opposed to the gala ball idea, which he said could have been "truly spectacular".

His suggestion,advanced in a column last week, was to cover Garden Place in a canopy, add lights and walkways and live orchestras or string quartets.

It's not the first Hamilton ball to go by the wayside - the "entertainment extravaganza" of the Great Race Ball stopped after 2011.

Financial risk got too high to keep the "horrendously expensive" event going, former organiser Rob Hamill said, and it was likely that was the same for the city ball.

"[The organisers] can only take so much risk . . . There's a certain time where you have to make yay or nay calls and I guess they realised they felt the risk was too high."

Hamill said sponsorship had always been essential for the Great Race Ball because ticket prices (about $170) didn't cover the actual cost.

Yet school balls remain popular, Hamilton Girls' High School principal Marie Gordon said. "Very much, [students] still get very excited... hey love it."

Ticket prices are aimed more at a secondary school budget - for about $60, students get nibbles, music and a venue where photographers are also available.

Last Saturday between 550 and 600 people were at the school's annual ball for Year 12 and 13 students.


Civic Ceremony August 24

City birthday party November 22

Riff Raff birthday time warp November 22

Interfaith Celebration August 17

Mods Reunion Concert August 22

Commemoration rugby match August 23

University of Waikato anniversary sculpture unveiling October 7

Race Day Carnival October 25-27

Gallagher Great Race September 14

Silent Film Festival TBC

Historical Photo Exhibition TBC

Waikato Times