New Zealand Sevens World Series event moving to Hamilton from 2018
Former NZ sevens star Liam Messam is backing Hamilton to turn on a great event after claiming from Wellington the hosting rights for the New Zealand leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Hamilton was announced on Monday as the new host of the event after years of dwindling crowd numbers finally brought to an end Wellington's 18-year tenure of the rugby sevens event.
Messam was confident Hamilton would "turn it on" for the event that will be held in the Waikato in both 2018 and 2019, when NZ Rugby's licence for the leg on the World Series came to an end.
The All Blacks flanker's comment came at the announcement of the venue switch, celebrated in Hamilton with cake, Moet champagne and discussion on costumes to be worn in 2018.
* Rasmussen: Goodbye 7s, good luck Hamilton
* Wellington leaders welcome loss of Sevens
* Hamilton would 'screw up' Sevens
* End could be nigh for Wellington Sevens
* Wellington Sevens posts second financial loss
* Sevens 'hung out to dry' by tougher liquor laws
* NZ 7s disaster in London with 8-men onfield
* Smith: Seven is heaven, eight just grates
Wellington's loss of the event came after posting financial losses in 2016 and 2017 after struggling to attract the bumper crowds and cult following it had enjoyed in the early 2000s.
Hamilton mayor Andrew King was confident the city would benefit from hosting the event, saying at Monday's unveiling, "the financial reward for the city is huge".
"Hamilton City Council is making the stadium available for a weekend where it would have been empty. There is no risk or cost or the rate payers," the mayor explained.
The event would be held at FMG Stadium Waikato.
King said he was a fan of the Sevens and would consider a costume for the 2018 event, though he may end up going as himself.
"I go to the Sevens regularly, I have gone as a surgeon in the past. Now, I might go dressed as the mayor," King said.
OPPORTUNITY IN WELLINGTON
Wellington mayor Justin Lester looked for positives in losing the event, saying it was an opportunity to refresh the city's events calendar.
"The Sevens has been a big part of recent Wellington history, but it was time for the event to move on. The feedback we'd been getting from the public was that the event in Wellington seemed to have lost its allure," Lester said.
"Wellingtonians have been voting with their feet in the last few years and we've seen the result in dwindling crowd numbers and lower ticket sales. It might be that the best thing is for the event to get a fresh start somewhere else and re-invent itself.
"For us, Wellington's events calendar needs to be constantly evolving to keep people's interest and this decision gives us an opportunity to refresh our events and look at new opportunities.
"We'll now be focused on developing new events that highlight the things we most love about our city - from our growing tech sector, our sports, our strong arts and culture scene and our world class food and drink offerings."
HAMILTON 'ON TOP'
Sevens general manager Steve Dunbar said Hamilton was the best choice for a change of venue for the New Zealand event.
"We reviewed the Wellington tournament, we've spoken to a number of cities who were interested in hosting the tournament and Hamilton's come out on top. We think there's a fantastic rugby venue here, custom made to deliver rugby," Dunbar said.
"We think we have a lot of opportunity to build the fan experience here in Hamilton. We think the tickets will be very affordable. We think we can offer more than just a rugby tournament because of the venue we've got here in Hamilton.
"Wellington had 18 fantastic tournaments, 15 of them better than we could have ever imagined.
"There was a changing in the environment. There was not one single thing that resulted in the downturn of Wellington. We've got to learn from these mistakes and bring all the good things here to Hamilton."
NZ RUGBY: HAMILTON FIT FOR SEVENS
New Zealand Rugby's chief strategy and operations officer Nigel Cass said the city offered a world class stadium and central location for fans coming from other areas.
"Hamilton and the Waikato region are rugby mad and we're looking forward to introducing international sevens to the local community and for visiting fans from around New Zealand to experience the heart of rugby in New Zealand.
"We are confident our partners in Hamilton will deliver an exceptional tournament that fans will love on the weekend of 3 and 4 February."
New Zealand Rugby has two years left on a three-year licence with World Rugby to host a leg of the series and had partnered with Hamilton based events company 37 South, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton City Council and the Chiefs to host the tournament.
37 South managing director Dallas Fisher said he was delighted to be part of the event.
"The planning starts now and we have some big ideas to ensure sevens becomes the hottest ticket in town. At FMG Stadium Waikato we can segment audiences so party goers, families and rugby fans can all enjoy the event and entertainment in their own space.
"We will take all the best aspects of the two-day event and add our own special flavour of entertainment and experiences.
"We are asking fans for their input via the NZ Sevens Facebook page where they are welcome to share their ideas and wishlists."
Cass said moving the international tournament from Wellington was not a decision made lightly, but the tournament needed a fresh start in New Zealand.
"We delivered 18 years of good times and great tournaments in the capital, thanks to the exceptional teams we worked with at Wellington City Council, WREDA, Westpac Stadium, police, hospitality industry and our fantastic volunteers. I have nothing but praise for all those who contributed to the Wellington Sevens for almost two decades.
Hamilton mayor Andrew King said the city had a proven track record in major stadia-based events.
"Over the last few years we've delivered successful matches in three World Cups across three sports, All Blacks tests, Super Rugby semis and finals, as well as international cricket," he said.
NO BAD BLOOD
Westpac Stadium chief executive Shane Harmonsaid it had been known since February that the Sevens was doomed in Wellington.
"It is with sadness that it comes to an end but it has not been successful for four years now," Harmon said.
The question remained if there was enough support for the sport in New Zealand and he hoped it would work in Hamilton.
"It would be fantastic of it could be resuscitated."
The Sevens needs to appeal to a broad audience and a fresh start would give organisers the opportunity to set the right tone for the event, he said.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said Wellington would have to work hard to find an event to replace the quality and value of the Sevens.
"Our hospitality and accommodation sector will feel this loss most of all because, despite the decline in recent years, they were still benefiting to some extent from the extra people coming into the city."
He hoped Hamilton could work around some of the issues that ultimately proved to be Wellington's stumbling block.
Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency general manager of partnerships and events Warrick Dent said Wellington had enjoyed hosting the the event, which had helped build a strong events programme the capital was known for today.
SEVENS 'STOPPED BEING FUN'
Hospitality New Zealand Wellington branch president Jeremy Smithsaid the police were determined to give the event a bad name and clamped down heavily.
"People who went were watched all the time and made to feel like criminals, it stopped being fun," Smith said.
The Wellington event had inspired organisers in other cities around the world, such as Cape Town and Sydney to turn it into a festival, he said.
It was disappointing to see the event leave Wellington but perhaps the city could take a break and bring it back after a few years.
"We'll be ready and people can get behind it."