Nervous wait for officials as apathy hinders ticket sales

A lack of interest in Saturday night's Air New Zealand Cup final could result in the Canterbury Rugby Football Union losing money from the fixture.

Canterbury's administrators have estimated they need around 11,000 people to attend the final against Wellington at AMI Stadium to break even and by yesterday afternoon had sold just 6000 tickets.

Overheads and a requirement that their revenue must be shared with Wellington means the Canterbury union faces a nervous wait ahead of the kickoff. Last weekend's semifinal against Hawkes Bay at the Christchurch venue attracted fewer than 8000 fans.

Canterbury now face the prospect of hosting one of the smallest crowds for a national provincial final since the competition was formed in 1976. Not surprisingly, this is a concern for the union but Canterbury chief executive Hamish Riach defended the union's marketing campaign.

"We are very conscious of it, we don't want it to be an embarrassing occasion for Canterbury and Canterbury rugby. We are doing a whole range of things."

This included advertising the match in the media, getting the players to visit three malls this afternoon and employing mascot Larry the Lamb to hand out flyers in central Christchurch and at the Guy Fawkes fireworks display at New Brighton tonight. A competition involving school classes decorating their rooms has also been launched.

A lack of interest in test, Super 14 and Air New Zealand Cup matches in Christchurch is nothing new and Riach acknowledged the union had "often" thought about giving away free tickets to bolster crowds and give patrons who would not usually attend matches an opportunity to experience the occasion.

"The trouble with free tickets is that if it is free, people do not see that the final of the national provincial championship has value.

"We want people to be there for all the right reasons, rather than throw away free tickets. But we think about it a lot."

High-profile matches have the potential to attract large crowds who will return to the central city to spend their money but the Christchurch City Council has not taken an obvious role in promoting the match.

However, Riach waltzed a careful line when discussing the council's relationship with his union.

"We generally have a strong relationship with the council," he said.

With the revamped AMI Stadium set to be completed later this year, Canterbury and the Crusaders face a massive challenge in attracting fans back to matches and Riach admitted the continued lack of interest was "certainly a concern".

Just how much the rebuilding of the Deans Stand at AMI Stadium has impacted on crowds over the last two years will be known when the Super 14 kicks off next year, and high hopes have been pinned on the completed venue attracting supporters who have turned their backs on rugby matches.

The New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to send the All Blacks on their end-of-year tour before the playoffs has also done Canterbury few favours, robbing the public of the opportunity to see stars such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Brad Thorn in action.

"We would prefer that this competition finished prior to the All Blacks going on that tour, that's for sure," Riach said.

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The Press