Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: Visitor shortfall fans slow to embrace Fast5

The Fast5 tournament did not attract as many spectators as organisers hoped. Photo / Photosport.co
The Fast5 tournament did not attract as many spectators as organisers hoped. Photo / Photosport.co

It attracted $650,000 over three years from ATEED, the Auckland Council's economic and international events agency, but netball's first Fast5 tournament did not attract the objective of that sponsorship money - visitors.

Both ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) and Netball New Zealand argue that the short-form, quick-fire, amended-rules version of the game has a solid future but that wasn't really borne out by the numbers that turned up to the first event at Vector Arena recently.

Precise visitor numbers brought to Auckland by the Fast5 are almost impossible to gather but a look round the venue during the matches produced an estimate of a total of about 1000 fans on the opening day (official figures said there were 3000). There were a few more on the Saturday though Herald on Sunday estimates were for no more than 1500, compared to the official attendance figure of 4200. Sunday was more successful, with up to 4500 passing through the turnstiles for finals day.

While it is impossible to break down attendees into locals and visitors, the event obviously fell well short of ATEED's target of attracting 6000 visitors to Auckland. ATEED couldn't supply any figures, while Netball New Zealand estimated that there were "up to 1000 visitors" from outside Auckland. The national body added that there were around 15 fans from England and "a couple" from Australia (not helped by their under-strength team).

Domestic visitors tend to be lower yield, as many stay with friends and relatives. Even taking Netball New Zealand's 1000 visitors as gospel still makes it difficult to justify an investment of over $200,000 per year. To put it in perspective, ATEED turned down a New Zealand Football request for $20,000 to help with the costs of the All Whites vs Jamaica game in February, which attracted over 15,000 to Mt Smart Stadium. The council agency also declined to assist with the Phoenix vs Adelaide A-League match earlier this year, which brought over 20,000 to Eden Park and would have attracted at least as many international visitors as the Fast5.

"We were really disappointed with Friday and Saturday," admits Netball NZ CEO Raelene Castle, "No matter what we tried, we couldn't get the public to understand what it was going to be and how it was going to look. If I'm honest, if it was a one-off gig then, no, it wouldn't have [delivered on the investment] and we would have been having some difficult conversations right now.

"But both those parties [ATEED and Major Events New Zealand] knew that it was a three-year investment and it was going to develop. We will guarantee a much bigger crowd next year, especially now the public understand how it works."

"Any event that gets major event funding from us has to deliver economic benefit and visitor numbers and that is how we do the evaluation," says ATEED CEO Brett O'Reilly.

"The target was 6000 visitors [but we] recognise it is a new property.

"I know each day Netball New Zealand were reviewing how they were doing things and I think by the final day they had just about got it right. In hindsight, we perhaps needed to start it later on the Friday and unfortunately it clashed with Coldplay on Saturday.

Castle is unsure why the event failed to capture the public imagination on the first two days. The promotional spend far exceeded similar campaigns for the Constellation Cup and Quad Series. With the rules not finalised until August, Castle says that may not have been long enough to educate the public and the step from seven to five players left many fans unsure of the product. She added the marketing had focused on the fact it was a world tournament and, in hindsight, they would have emphasised the opportunity to see many of the Silver Fern stars.

Aside from economic impact, ATEED pinpoints the chance for Auckland to "own" an event and a concept as a huge positive.

"There are some events like V8s that deliver strong visitor numbers so we are attracted for that reason," says O'Reilly, "but Fast 5 gives us an opportunity to be involved with something unique. There is no other Fast5 event around the world."

Castle says TV ratings for the event were "very strong" , with Friday and Saturday delivering audiences equivalent to an ANZ Championship match and Sunday attracting comparable numbers to the ANZ Championship finals series.

SKY says Fast 5 was their highest rating programme that weekend (November 9-11) and the grand final between New Zealand and England the weekend's most watched sport event.

The event was also broadcast across Australia and the African continent. Viewing figures were unknown, though Netball NZ received feedback from some Kiwis based in Northern Kenya who enjoyed the coverage.

"I think both ATEED and [Major Events NZ] will be happy because we got TV coverage to all of Australia and all of Africa," says Castle.

There is no doubt the format is here to stay. Next year's event has already been locked in (November 8-10) and Castle hopes by 2014 there will be back-to-back Fast5 tournaments, with a second one to be held in Australia.

- Herald on Sunday

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