Memberships matching the on-field rise and rise of the Hurricanes

Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee, right, has worked hard to make a success of the Super Rugby franchise.
Mark Tantrum

Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee, right, has worked hard to make a success of the Super Rugby franchise.

Avan Lee's skills don't extend to producing silver bullets for sevens footy.

They used to, during his two years as sevens general manager for World Rugby. Now the Hurricanes chief executive, Lee's calling cards are a maiden Super Rugby title and over 6000 season members with which to start the the team's 2017 campaign.

That's an increase of 30 per cent on last year and way up on the mere 1900 members the franchise boasted as recently 2014.

Empty yellow seats were the feature of this year's Wellington Sevens.
JOHN COWPLAND

Empty yellow seats were the feature of this year's Wellington Sevens.

"I was actually conscious of not coming out with our [membership] news straight after the [Wellington] sevens, because everyone was kicking the sevens and I didn't want anyone to think 'here come the Hurricanes, they're going to kick them as well'," Lee said.

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New Zealand Rugby (NZR) allege 10,000 people attended each day of this year's Wellington Sevens, 4000 down on 2016 and miles off the capacity crowds of 34,500 that flocked to the event for so long.

Success on the park has led to increased membership numbers off it, for the Hurricanes.
MONIQUE FORD / Fairfax NZ

Success on the park has led to increased membership numbers off it, for the Hurricanes.

Lee's like a lot of people, in that he's sad to see how far the tournament's fallen.

"The powers that be at World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby have obviously got a choice now whether they look to give it one last go in Wellington or take it somewhere else and try a new city," said Lee.

The problem with option two is finding somewhere in New Zealand that can accommodate 16 teams and dozens of other tournament personnel, as well as get them in and out on international flights.

One of World Rugby's other aims is to take the sevens series to some of the iconic cities of the world. Wellington has its charms but the other stops on the circuit are Dubai, Cape Town, Sydney, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London.

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It's arguable if many towns and cities in New Zealand belong in that league.

Aside from anything else, few if any of those other sevens host cities get the supply of quality rugby fans in this country can choose from. 

"That's absolutely true," Lee said. "I've been to Dubai, I've been to Hong Kong and that is their no.1 rugby event in that country by a country mile and they're fantastic events."

In fact, given how good the product in New Zealand is, the Hurricanes have done well to entice folk to put their money where their mouth is.

"The reality is getting people to part with their hard-earned cash is something different to just watching a game on television or liking something on social media," said Lee.

"We've tried had to create a sense of belonging and offered benefits like the [free for members] final tickets [last year] and the ability to be part of something. Clearly the on-field performance has been a major driver; people that say it's not are lying.

"But you've also got to have systems in the back-end to look after people and give them benefits for being part of something."

Finalists in 2015 and champions last year, the Hurricanes need to keep the momentum going.

"I don't think we're putting any undue pressure on the team to go out and win it again, but we want to be in the playoffs," Lee said.

"We want to be in contention and there's no reason why we won't be competing for it again. But it is a very tough competition, you only have to look at the New Zealand conference to realise that."

 - Dominion Post

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