Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

League fans asked to aid Eden Park

Report proposes moving Warriors from Mt Smart to help pay rugby stadium's debts

Warriors such as Shaun Johnson would play at cash-strapped Eden Park under the latest proposal. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Warriors such as Shaun Johnson would play at cash-strapped Eden Park under the latest proposal. Photo / Brett Phibbs

League fans are being asked to bail out Eden Park, which is cash-strapped and weighed down by debt in the wake of the Rugby World Cup's euphoria.

The cup's legacy is a 50,000-seat stadium $55 million in debt and struggling to break even and the plan is to move the Warriors from Mt Smart Stadium to Eden Park.

Based on this year's figures, about 96,000 league fans could pour through the gates for eight home games at Eden Park from 2014.

The proposed move is part of a review of Auckland stadiums that focuses strongly on saving money and pays little attention to the effect on the sporting codes and their fans.

A "strategic direction" for the city's big stadiums proposes that Eden Park becomes the primary venue for rugby, league, one-day and 20/20 cricket matches.

Other pieces of the jigsaw involve moving speedway to Mt Smart Stadium to free up Western Springs for test cricket.

Mt Smart Stadium would be used as a training base for league, a high-performance centre and remain the home of athletics.

North Harbour Stadium - which got a $1 million ratepayer subsidy in the past year - would continue to be used by North Harbour Rugby, New Zealand Soccer and for local uses.

Warriors patriarch Sir Peter Leitch said the fans were happy with Mt Smart Stadium and a move to Eden Park with the 50,000-seat capacity ground three-quarters or half empty would create a horrible atmosphere.

"When you think of Eden Park you think rugby union. Think Mt Smart Stadium and you think rugby league. That's the reality," Sir Peter said.

He said the council, which found $10 million for the V8 Supercars, only needed to spend a bit of money to upgrade Mt Smart Stadium.

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah has expressed similar concerns to the Herald on Sunday, saying league fans struggled to create an atmosphere at Eden Park.

A lack of atmosphere with small crowds at midweek matches for the ITM competition is one reason Auckland Rugby is exploring the possibility of moving one match from Eden Park to Trusts Stadium at Henderson next year.

A report going to the council today says moving the Warriors to Eden Park offsets the needs to spend up to $60 million upgrading Mt Smart Stadium and helps the "lack of financial sustainability" at Eden Park.

Integrating the management and operations of the stadiums is one cost-saving option, but no firm work has been done on the likely savings.

The overall plan is expected to reduce council funding requirements, create opportunities for Eden Park to pay down debts of $55 million and strengthen the overall financial position of the region's stadiums.

Of this debt, Auckland ratepayers underwrote the final $40 million of the $256 million upgrade for the Rugby World Cup and are owed $6.5 million from an earlier loan.

Council officers - who warned at the time of the $40 million underwrite in 2010 that the trust board's business plan might not work and posed significant risk - said Eden Park was only managing to break even and faced difficult choices to meet its financial obligations.

Eden Park chief executive David Kennedy said the park was able to run the stadium, pay rates and pay interest on the debt, but could not generate enough money to pay down the debt or fund future investment.

One option is to tear up the number two ground and turn it into a bus interchange, taxi ranks, carparks or develop it for residential or commercial use.

This option, however, is at odds with Auckland Cricket, which uses the number two ground for domestic cricket and is holding the first test match in Auckland since 2004 between the Black Caps and England next year inside the main Eden Park stadium.

Auckland Cricket chief executive Mark Cameron said the sport was happy at Eden Park - "it has been our home and history for over 100 years" - and was set to resume domestic cricket after the reinstatement of the number two ground.

"We are not seeking to relocate from Eden Park."

- NZ Herald

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