Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Fans too thin on ground for waterfront stadium

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Watson and co should build teams before a showcase arena.
Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Would it be rude to suggest that before Warriors owner Eric Watson tries to convince Aucklanders to build him a waterfront showcase for his league team, he concentrates on building a team that might attract more than just the diehard fans. Last season, crowd numbers for the 11 home games at Mt Smart Stadium averaged 14,375. It's hard to see a 30,000 - 40,000 waterfront stadium as a priority.

At least in 2012, when his predecessor as Warriors chairman, Bill Wavish, made a similar bid for a new home for league, Mr Wavish did sugar the pill by offering to personally stump up a third of the cost of a new $300 million CBD/waterfront covered stadium. The very rich Mr Watson has been more circumspect, dangling an unspecified personal contribution if others come to the party.

As support for this revived waterfront stadium fantasy bubbles along, it never ceases to bemuse me how otherwise astute businessmen and politicians, the ones who demand endless business plans and economic analysis whenever a major public transport project, for example, is broached, go weak at the knees and light in the head at the thought of a new stadium.

They're the cathedrals of the post-Christian era, the runways of Pacific Island cargo cultists. Build them, and your dreams will come true. Crowds will suddenly flock to the doors, the bills will miraculously be paid, and everyone will live happily ever after.

It's hardly unique to Auckland. Brazil is on to its second epidemic, first with the football world cup and now with the Olympics. South Africa, Sydney, Beijing, wherever a grand world sporting tournament has occurred, chances are there'll be white elephant venues left sucking away at the public teat.

Even if Mr Watson's team starts winning, there's no guarantee audiences will grow. The National Rugby League's 2015 annual report, revealed that average attendance at NRL games across Australia and New Zealand last season was just 15,078, a drop of 5 per cent on the previous season. It showed that attendance had dropped steadily since 2012. It predicted another dive this year.

Sharing the venue with rugby won't help. The national game attracts such pitiful crowds to its present Eden Park home, it's hard to see how rugby union bosses could afford the power bill, let alone any other costs at a new venue. Last season, the six Super Rugby games at Eden Park featuring the Auckland Blues attracted average audiences of around 10,000, down significantly on 17,400 the previous year. The six provincial ITM Cup games starring Auckland averaged less than 4000 spectators a game.

Those running sport have only themselves to blame. They long ago made their pact with the devil by selling off broadcasting rights to their games for huge fees. They ensured that fans no longer had to fork out large sums of cash for hard seats and warm beer at cold stadiums to see the game. They could sit at home and watch in comfort. No wonder Mr Watson is coy when it comes to how much cash he is willing to invest. He's hoping muggins ratepayer will come to the party instead.

It is disappointing that mayoral aspirant Phil Goff has given knee-jerk support, claiming that almost everyone now agrees that the decision in 2006 by Auckland councils to reject his Labour government's hare-brained waterfront stadium proposal prior to the rugby world cup was short-sighted and wrong. Rubbish.

The decision by Auckland local politicians to reject sports minister Trevor Mallard's bullying and bribing, was one of Auckland local government's finest hours.

Forget the current myth-making. What actually happened was Mr Mallard presented his waterfront stadium dream to the Auckland authorities and gave them an impossibly short, two week period to say yes or no. There were no details. No reports. No available site. Estimates of costs varied between $500 million and $1 billion plus.

Mr Mallard warned the Government would treat the waterfront stadium as a "National Stadium" and fund accordingly, but if Auckland chose to stick with upgrading existing Eden Park, it would be regarded as only a regional facility, with the obvious funding implications. To their credit, not one regional or Auckland City councillor voted for the Mallard albatross, which would now be beggaring Auckland ratepayers.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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