Ugly draw makes fans wait for the Crusaders
Season ticket holders are slowly recommitting to the Crusaders, who have been lumbered with an ugly Super Rugby draw.
About 2600 season passes have sold and chief executive Hamish Riach remains optimistic that last year's total of 4000 could be matched.
"Steady would be my description of sales to date," Riach said. "We are not spectacularly ahead of where we were this time last year but they are certainly decent at this stage.
"We are working hard on this."
The capacity of AMI Stadium is about 17,000 which could be increased with temporary seating.
The competition draw has done the Crusaders few favours.
A first-round bye, followed by away matches against the Blues and Hurricanes, means the Crusaders' first home match against the Bulls is not until March 16.
The tournament's opening round, which Sanzar has created only for the Australian teams ahead of their stretched test window for the British and Irish Lions tour this winter, will be held on February 15-16.
The Crusaders would not host a New Zealand side - the Highlanders - until April 20.
Traditionally, derby matches against fellow Kiwi teams attract the biggest crowds.
Riach was unfazed by the unfavourable draw: "It is what it is. If you look at the positive side, the competition will be well under way by the time we start and there will be great awareness and anticipation by the fans."
The Crusaders have not given up hopes of playing a warm-up match against the Melbourne Rebels in Singapore next year.
Initially they hoped to meet the Rebels in Asia this summer but the Lions tour, and the subsequent need to start the Australian conference games earlier, forced such plans to be abandoned.
The Crusaders would receive an undisclosed set-fee for meeting the Waratahs in Sydney on February 14.
Before facing the Hurricanes at Alpine Energy Stadium next weekend the Crusaders would be split into groups to visit different regions, followed by a camp.
Meanwhile, Highlanders general manager Roger Clark said there was no chance of All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson being brought in to the squad as a replacement for Doug Tietjens who has a serious knee injury.
"No is the short answer to that," Clark said. "Before the All Blacks tour we were working with Adam and we wanted him to be part of it but it was pretty clear he made other arrangements for 2013. We have moved on, really."
Thomson is expected to link with a Japanese club.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Rugby Union have yet to set a date for Crusaders wing Zac Guildford's misconduct hearing.
Guildford stood himself down from the squad after an alcohol-related incident in Christchurch.
It is understood the NZRU and Guildford's representatives have been in discussion this week.
Crusaders pre-season fixtures: v Hurricanes (Timaru) Feb 2, v Highlanders (Oamaru) Feb 8, v Waratahs (Sydney) Feb 14.