Editorial: Beware public offerings to Fashion Week

After 11 years, there might not be a Fashion Week next year. Photo / Babiche Martens
After 11 years, there might not be a Fashion Week next year. Photo / Babiche Martens

Fashion Week in Auckland has become one of the highlights of the city's calendar, a status well recognised a few months ago when it was one of just four annual events classified as economic by the new Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development Agency.

The others were the Auckland Marathon, the international boat show and the January tennis tournaments.

It is always dangerous for an agency with public funds to extol a private enterprise that depends on sponsorship.

The 2011 Fashion Week opened with speeches from the Prime Minister and Auckland's Mayor, each praising the event for its contribution to the branding of Auckland and New Zealand as creative places.

Then the event's director, Pieter Stewart, spoke. She said its future was in jeopardy. Sponsorship had been tough this year, she said.

"Rugby World Cup has taken a huge amount out of the economy."

After 11 years, there might not be a Fashion Week next year.

She said local and central government would need to consider backing the event.

Central government is unlikely to do any such thing.

It might put public money into a one-off global attraction such as the World Cup but the Treasury will argue strenuously against a commitment to an annual industry showpiece that ought to be an economic activity.

The Auckland Council may be more susceptible to calls for help from an event it would not want the city to lose.

If so, it should beware.

This is undoubtedly a hard year for raising sponsorship. The World Cup is only one reason.

The world economy remains delicate and business everywhere is cautious.

But New Zealand's small fashion design industry appears to be dedicated and resourceful. Its premier exhibition remains an ideal vehicle for any New Zealand brand in need of greater exposure. The organisation will rise or fall on its own efforts.

Public finance is not a reliable system of life support for ailing commercial enterprise of any sort.

Not so long ago Auckland enjoyed an annual visit from a yacht race around the world. Sponsored for many years by Whitbread, then Volvo, the race enjoyed its Auckland stopover as much as the city did.

Crowds turned out to watch from land and sea and the yachts were the toast of the waterfront while they were here.

Such was its popularity that the organisers decided they would threaten to take the event from Auckland unless the former city council paid them handsomely. A contribution was agreed, unfortunately, but it did not keep the race here for long. Other cities entered the bidding. Auckland lost interest.

Public finance can be a poison pill for all concerned.

For the event, it can reduce the energy and imagination required of its organisers, for the industry it can mean a loss of control, for the council it can be a costly commitment and open an auction with other cities, for Auckland it means the city's competitive advantage is lost.

As the largest city and commercial capital, Auckland has a head start in hosting events that depend on corporate sponsorship. Once its council takes up the burden, success is less assured, as evidenced by the Ellerslie Flower Show and the V8 Supercars among other enterprises that have had a better offer.

Auckland does not need to pay a public premium for worthwhile events.

Most of them would prefer to be here, taking advantage of the city's population and natural blessings.

Councils should limit their support to the provision of suitable public buildings and infrastructure, which the Auckland Council has done for Fashion Week.

It is this week enjoying the new Viaduct Events Centre on the waterfront. That is where it belongs and we hope that is where it can stay.

- NZ Herald

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