World Cup Countdown: Plenty of seats left out in the provinces

By Michael Dickison

There will be empty seats at some venues, but Eden Park should be full. Picture / Richard Robinson
There will be empty seats at some venues, but Eden Park should be full. Picture / Richard Robinson

Hundreds of thousands of Rugby World Cup seats remain empty, as many provinces have sold only a quarter of their stadium capacities.

Tickets elsewhere have moved briskly, however, putting pressure on for the leftovers when they are released on July 4.

Until then the general public can buy tickets through official travel agents and hospitality providers only, who sell them in packages with travel, accommodation or hospitality, such as corporate boxes.

"If anyone wants an absolute guarantee of tickets, that's the best place to go at the moment," said Rugby World Cup boss Martin Snedden.

Presently, the only public sales are to those who had booked to watch matches in Christchurch. The original ticketholders have been refunded and they now have the chance to buy tickets to the relocated fixtures.

Overall, the Cup remains half-full, with about 800,000 of 1.6 million total tickets sold. The sales target is 1.35 million.

"We've still got a significant way to go ... but it's achievable with a hard slog," Mr Snedden said.

Whangarei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Invercargill have about three-quarters of their seats left - with Rotorua the worst, so far filling just 18 per cent of its total, according to the latest breakdown.

It hosts three pool matches - Fiji v Namibia, Samoa v Namibia and Ireland v Russia - at Rotorua International Stadium, which has a capacity of 26,000. About 14,000 of its tickets have been bought, leaving 45,000 unsold and a further 19,000 yet to be put on the market.

Palmerston North has sold the fewest total number of tickets, at just 8000, while Whangarei and Invercargill have each sold 9000.

Palmerston Mayor Jono Naylor was reported as saying the town was just procrastinating. "I'm not fazed. It's often the case that people wait to the last minute to buy tickets to events in Palmerston North," he said.

Waikato Stadium is the only venue to have filled more than half its capacity on public sales alone.

Wellington and Napier have also sold well - with the Hawkes Bay city selling out all but 2000 tickets made available - while Eden Park has sold the highest percentage of publicly released tickets, at 90 per cent.

The statistics were released in December, with three months left in the latest phase of ticket sales. Since then, about 55,000 more public ticket sales - or 8 per cent of the previous total - were sold.

The next full ticketing update from organisers is expected next month.

The NZ-France match and the knockouts are expected to quickly sell out when the final phase of public ticket sales starts in July. Everything else will probably have vacancies.

Ticketmaster last month announced cheaper hospitality packages, starting at $3200, to the semifinals and finals at Eden Park, that were "designed to make the Rugby World Cup 2011 more affordable". The prices of tickets themselves, however, will not be discounted, even close to the tournament.

House of Travel retail director Brent Thomas said travel packages for popular matches would not last much longer.

"We're not talking about thousands of tickets - it's in the hundreds. It's very limited," Mr Thomas said. Pool matches had been selling faster than expected, he said.

Matt Lines, the director of Seasonz Travel, said those who had missed out in the public ticket ballots were buying finals packages through the company to guarantee their tickets.

The company could sell their tickets to the NZ-France match "15 times over", he said, and the Australia-Ireland match was popular with Australians who wanted a weekend visit.

To date more than 105,000 tickets have been bought through the travel programme, and final figures are expected to reach 110,000.

Australians had bought the majority of tickets at 37 per cent, but the level of French interest was a surprise at 23 per cent of all orders, said David White, operations director for Rugby Travel and Hospitality.

Other markets have surprised. There has been strong interest from Tahiti for the NZ-France match, owing to its large French expat population.

SALES SO FAR

Venue - Released ticket sales - Seats left

* Eden Park - 90 per cent - 123,000*^
* North Harbour - 63 per cent - 52,000*
* Whangarei - 38 per cent - 27,000
* Hamilton - 88 per cent - 41,000
* Rotorua - 24 per cent - 64,000
* New Plymouth - 29 per cent - 62,000
* Napier - 88 per cent - 16,000
* Palmerston North - 47 per cent - 22,000
* Wellington - 80 per cent - 152,000*
* Nelson - 62 per cent - 23,000*
* Dunedin - 66 per cent - 59,000*
* Invercargill - 38 per cent - 25,000*
* Total - 69 per cent - 666,000*

* Excludes 255,000 total seats made available by relocating Christchurch matches.
^ Includes 202,000 commercial sales.(Figures exclude 55,000 sales for which breakdowns were unavailable.)

THE HOT TICKETS

* Australia v Ireland, Eden Park (Auckland)
* France v Canada, McLean Park (Napier)
* New Zealand v France, Eden Park (Auckland)
* Fiji v Samoa, Eden Park (Auckland)
* France v Tonga, Stadium Wellington
* England v Scotland, Eden Park (Auckland)
* New Zealand v Canada, Stadium Wellington
* Knockout rounds

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS TODAY

* Tickets packaged with transport or accommodation through official travel agents (House of Travel and Seasonz in NZ).
* Tickets packaged with hospitality, such as corporate boxes, through official hospitality agents (Eden Park and others).

From early July:

* Public sales of individual tickets through organisers.

FACEBOOK RAMPS UP INTEREST ABROAD

The Rugby World Cup is relying on its Facebook page - and its one million fans - as it enters the final stretch of selling the tournament abroad.

The page has attracted a million fans, only 11 per cent of whom are from New Zealand. That leaves 890,000 people overseas who have taken an interest.

They overwhelm the 85,000 visitors the tournament has secured so far, a number that already exceeds expectations.

Tournament boss Martin Snedden said the biggest growth potential was in Australia, where visitors could put off making a booking until closer to the date. Some are likely to make repeat visits during the six-week event.

Demand in New Zealand, meanwhile, was likely to heat up once the tournament got started, he said.

The excitement would be as much about a six-week nationwide festival being held alongside the rugby as the sport itself.

"A lot of Kiwis' engagement won't be based around rugby but the festival," he said. "It will probably become one of the great success stories of the whole event. Nothing this extensive has ever been attempted."

More than 600 events have already been signed up for the festival, which has been named the REAL New Zealand Festival.

Tickets, particularly in the provinces, are likely to keep selling up till kick-off.

"Event history tells you an awful lot of tickets sell once the tournament starts," Mr Snedden said. "[In some cases] you will be able to rock up and buy tickets at the gate. It's unrealistic to expect we will sell out everything around the country."

Top ticket buyers

1. Australia
2. Britain and Ireland
3. France
4. United States and Canada
5. South Africa
Honorable mentions: Tahiti, Kazakhstan

- NZ Herald

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