OPINION: Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman is worried about the possibility of Taranaki joining the Chiefs franchise, although probably not for the same reasons as many Taranaki rugby followers. For Mr Chesterman it is all about money - and how much Hamilton might lose if two Super 15 games came to Yarrow Stadium every year.
He believes that because Hamilton ratepayers indirectly pumped millions of dollars into the city's major professional codes, rugby, netball and soccer, through providing venues for them to play in, any suggestion that games would be played elsewhere was a "slap in the face".
Mr Chesterman is assuming a lot. Chiefs chairman Dallas Fisher says that the current contract with the owners of Waikato Stadium, Hamilton City Council, stipulates a minimum number of games per year and the franchise has every intention of honouring that. So what is Mr Chesterman's beef? Well, he says ratepayers carry almost $90m of debt for both the Waikato Stadium and the Claudelands Events Centre, where the Magic netball franchise plays, and the Chiefs would be ignoring that investment if it shifted games away. Excuse us? Both rugby and netball are professional and it just so happens they are also sports.
The objective of each code these days is to make money so that they can cover the not insignificant overheads imposed on them by being based at the stadiums, as well as being able to pay staff wages. If councils choose to sink vast amounts of money into these arenas does that make the sports vicariously responsible for that money? If they were any other businesses, that "investment" would be called a subsidy, something the New Zealand government stopped decades ago.
It is not as if the Hamilton City Council does not get a return from its investment. Apart from ground rental, it also gets a percentage of the gate takings. Therein may lie some of the problem. Waikato fans have been noticeable by their absence at rugby games in recent years and only two years ago the union was technically insolvent. Many fans said the ticket prices were too high as was the food and drink that was supplied by an independent caterer. The general opinion seemed to be if the prices came down attendance would go up. Taranaki does not have that problem.
Yarrow Stadium, now owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and managed by the New Plymouth District Council, continues to attract large crowds to rugby matches. We are loyal. That loyalty makes the Taranaki Rugby Union financially attractive, far more so than Bay of Plenty and Counties, who are both in the Chiefs' catchment area.
Because of that, any absorption of Taranaki would invariably be described as a win-win. The passion for rugby in this province is such that games at New Plymouth could well bring some of the biggest gate takings for the Chiefs in the season. Two games a year here would be about right, and more than the Hurricanes ever gave us.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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