Poor crowds prompt dramatic action
Poor home crowds in this year's national provincial rugby premiership have forced the cash-strapped Waikato Rugby Union to close a grandstand for their next home game on Thursday night.
Struggling to match a modest 2012 budget for an average crowd of 5000 for home games at Waikato Stadium, the union has decided to close off the Wel Networks Stand for the 7.35pm match against championship division side Tasman. This comes hard on the heels of a record Chiefs Super Rugby season for sellout crowds at the stadium.
Waikato Rugby Union chief executive Graham Bowen confirmed the union would save between $2000 and $3000 in costs for security, people manning gates and cleaning services by not having the stand open on the night.
The stand is what television viewers see in the main shot provided in live broadcasts due to the cameras being mounted on the top level of the Brian Perry Stand.
The move is being viewed at this stage as a one-off, with the remaining home game in the ITM Cup being a Saturday afternoon (5.35pm) match against Hawke's Bay on October 13.
"These are challenging times and with these midweek 7.30pm games not a lot of people are coming to them," Bowen said.
"The cost of having both sides open is quite expensive so we thought this was a good opportunity to give it a try and see how people felt about it.
"While we are conscious of the inconvenience for people, unfortunately it's just the reality of midweek games at the moment."
Season ticket holders with seats in the affected stand would be offered equivalent seats in the Brian Perry Stand.
Ticket prices for the uncovered black zone in the latter stand will also drop to the same price as for the two ends of the ground - $12.50 for adults and $6.50 for children.
There will be no dedicated kids zone.
"It will be an awful look for television and we have spoken to Sky and asked if they would change positions but they are not keen to do that at the moment," Bowen said.
Waikato were not the first provincial union this season to close off part of their stadium to spectators to save money, he said.
Waikato's only other midweek game to date this season drew about 4500 to watch the home side play Bay of Plenty two weeks ago.
Poor form from the Waikato team, a lack of travelling supporters from the South Island-based Tasman union and forecast rain indicated there could be fewer spectators for Thursday's match.
Sunday's 52-27 loss to Canterbury was the only time Waikato have bettered their own 5000 crowd budget for home games this season, with 5800 the official figure.
"They've been very mediocre [crowds] to be honest. People like to follow a team that's winning and I'm very conscious of the fact that we're developing a lot of new players and are not getting the results people would like, but that's how it is." Bowen said
However, despite the poor gates for home games this season, Bowen said the Waikato Rugby Union was not relying on them for a successful financial year and was still on target to meet its budget, coming close to breaking even and to pay back another $1 million of the union's well-publicised debt.
"That's a pretty big effort," he said.
That will be the result of major cost cutbacks, with $300,000 pruned off player payments in the past two years, staff pruned back to 14 and a number of fundraising schemes under way.