Phoenix to play in city, Warriors in talks

CAROLINE KING
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013

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Christchurch is set for a sporting fiesta, with top football and possibly rugby league matches coming to the city.

The Wellington Phoenix have confirmed they will play an A-League fixture at AMI Stadium in each of the next three seasons, and talks to bring New Zealand Warriors NRL matches to the city are under way.

City leaders are celebrating the announcement as a boon for Christchurch's post-earthquake economy.

Christchurch has hosted in-competition matches of both professional franchises before, but not since the quakes.

Phoenix general manager David Dome said passionate support for the club on previous visits to the city had encouraged it to come back.

"We wanted to show our support for the Garden City as the rebuild gets under way," he said.

Landing the games was a huge win for the city's tourism industry, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said.

"It's good news for Christchurch ... I think it's the sort of thing we can build on to continue to create Christchurch as a special place."

The Phoenix's strong national following would "pull people into the city", he said.

Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said such visitors would provide a "boost to the weekend tourism economy", which had taken a hit since the quakes.

Accommodation providers, bars, restaurants and other hospitality businesses would all benefit.

Securing the games was a sign of the city's recovery, Hunter said.

"We've lost a lot of national events due to damaged infrastructure in the city. It's great to see that it's coming back."

The focus should now turn on keeping these events, "year in, year out", he said.

Russell Kenny, general manager of Vbase, which manages the new AMI Stadium, said the company had "worked very hard with the Phoenix to get them to bring a game to Christchurch", but success depended on public support.

"We have to pay the Phoenix to come here, and rightly so because it's their home game and they are coming out of Wellington, so their expenses have to be met,'' he said.

"If we end up with a small crowd, it's not going to do us any good."

That should not be a problem. The Phoenix's two previous A-League games in Christchurch drew crowds of 19,258 and 14,018, but since the quakes the Wellington-based team has made Dunedin its home away from home.

The new AMI Stadium's capacity is 18,000.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull played down the loss of the Phoenix matches, despite the city aiming to attract as many significant games and events as possible to the expensive, roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium.

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"When [the Phoenix] get wet and cold [in the uncovered AMI Stadium], we'll have them back," he said.

Fans would probably be unfazed by the move as the atmosphere in both Christchurch and Dunedin was good, said Guy Smith, head of the Phoenix supporters' club, the Yellow Fever.

"I don't think it really bothers us much; we like going on trips," he said.

The Phoenix's first post-quake appearance in Christchurch, against the Perth Glory, will kick off Cup Week on November 9.

- The Press

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