Magic exploring all options for better crowds

MAGIC WORRIES: The empty seats at the Magic's first home match of the season is a big concern.
MAGIC WORRIES: The empty seats at the Magic's first home match of the season is a big concern.

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic will consider lowering ticket prices to try and rectify an appalling turnout at their first home match of the season.

On Monday night the franchise got just 1575 people along to their 61-57 trans-Tasman league round three win over the Southern Steel at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena.

It sets an ugly tone for their remaining six home regular season matches – three of which are at Claudelands – along with two at ASB Arena in Mt Maunganui and one at Rotorua's Energy Events Centre.

The cheapest tickets for Monday's game were $20, with the most expensive being $40, which is the same range as last year, when crowds were healthy.

With the Magic's cleanout of star players season memberships were always going to drop, but after producing the goods in their opening two matches, it wasn't expected that Claudelands staff would be draping big black sheets over huge blocks of empty seats to make things not look so bad on TV.

Waikato-Bay of Plenty Netball Zone board chairman John Wiltshire said the franchise was particularly disappointed with the sparse crowd.

"We thought with two good wins on the road and the side starting to gel quite quickly, that it might have attracted quite a degree of interest," he said.

Wiltshire said because of the conservative nature of budgeting for crowds, the Magic won't be worried about a financial hit for the season, and that even if poor turnouts continued at Claudelands – where big walk-up crowds were a feature – Hamilton would not be at risk of losing games because the Magic enjoy spreading them across the region.

But all options are going to be considered to try and get a home crowd advantage to play into the team's hands.

"The most important factor is actually to get people in to watch the games," Wiltshire said. "I know that [CEO] Tim Hamilton is actually looking at every aspect of the first game to see what we need to tweak as we sail through. And ticket prices will definitely be under review like everything else."

The earlier start to this year's competition – brought forward three weeks because of the Commonwealth Games starting in late July – is being pinpointed as the key reason for the lack of numbers.

"I think that's had a major effect," Wiltshire said, adding that getting school kids interested in the game well before their seasons get underway had been difficult, with them still focusing on summer sports.

"Certainly it's a very vocal and supportive part of the fan base, and they drag their parents along, although there's a lot of keen parents as well.

"I think they're just actually almost too busy to accommodate the winter code at this point."

Wiltshire felt the Magic weren't in a unique situation, with the other franchises in a similar boat. The Central Pulse are the exception to that rule, with their team of big names seeing their season memberships sell out and mean packed houses most times.

Something the New Zealand sides are disadvantaged by is the need to play their games on Sunday and Monday nights, (plus the odd Saturday afternoon), whereas the majority of the games in Australia are in the more friendly Sunday afternoon slot.

"Sky Television New Zealand are just absolutely fantastic, and they're a huge supporter of netball, and us of them, for their generosity and their ability to try and dovetail in and help all these things," Wiltshire said.

"But I think they've sort of struggled a little bit in Australia to find an equivalent. So they've got a little bit less flexibility around times and also dovetailing in with the other codes that have a lot of television time in Australia."

The Magic are away to the Vixens in Melbourne this Sunday, with their next home fixture the following Sunday night in Mt Maunganui against the West Coast Fever.

It is a run of four successive home games, split by a bye.

Fairfax Media