Wellington Sevens needs to learn from Nines

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2014
Fans arrive at Auckland Nines
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ALL DOLLED UP: Fans during day two of the Auckland Nines.

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The Cowboys celebrate their win over the Broncos in the grand final of the inaugural Auckland Nines.

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Hard as it may be to admit, Auckland could hold a few lessons for the annual Wellington Sevens event.

Marty Donoghue, the general manager of the sevens, spent the weekend at the inaugural Auckland Nines rugby league tournament, and said afterwards the success up north could help the sevens reinvent itself.

The nines attracted nearly 90,000 fans over two days at Eden Park, while the sevens failed to sell out this year.

Auckland - long rumoured to have an eye on poaching the sevens from the capital - has secured the league event for five years, which could be positive for Wellington retaining its showcase event.

While smuggled alcohol and some minor disorder were reported in Auckland, in the city's biggest weekend since the Rugby World Cup, police and emergency services largely gave it the thumbs-up. In contrast, police lashed out at the drunken behaviour at the sevens tournament just over a week ago.

Donoghue attended the first day of the nines on Saturday and said organisers had done a good job in producing an "outstanding" event.

"Those guys really understand who their customers are and it's a really broad base, but the one thing people had in common was a passion for rugby league."

The success of the sevens hinged more on reinventing the tournament and using the opportunity of the code becoming an Olympic sport to attract bigger stars and more passion from fans.

He said the Wellington Sevens needed to make more of the dominance of the All Black sevens team - who won this year's competition - as a marketing tool.

"We have a brand and that's one of our strengths and that's something we have to take better advantage of."

Ultimately the sevens faced competition from all events competing for people's entertainment dollars.

"I don't think it's just the nines. The competition is for people's money . . . it's a balancing act, brands have to constantly refresh themselves."

Donoghue said Wellington rugby had put in a tender with the International Rugby Board to host the sevens in Wellington in 2015 and 2016 but would not be drawn on whether it would be successful.

"It would be arrogant to think that we would naturally get it - we have to fight hard and put forward a really good product," he said.

The deadline for formal tender submissions for hosting a sevens World Series tournament is set for June. Series hosts will be selected in October.

Westpac Stadium boss Shane Harmon said alcohol issues at the sevens needed to be managed and that the tournament needed to evolve but that Wellington was the spiritual home of sevens and would remain so.

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Competition from the Auckland Nines was positive. "I'm a big believer in competition - the things they've done we'll be able to learn from."

- The Dominion Post

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