James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rugby: Chiefs bank on Sonny Bill factor to woo crowds

Sonny Bill Williams will join fellow All Black Aaron Cruden. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sonny Bill Williams will join fellow All Black Aaron Cruden. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Chiefs rugby franchise is banking on one of the game's biggest stars and a rising talent to get flagging crowds back through the gates.

Hamilton City Council and the Chiefs yesterday agreed to new terms for the use of Waikato Stadium under which the side will play at least Super rugby matches at the venue.

The announcement came a day after the Chiefs confirmed they had secured the services of star All Black Sonny Bill Williams.

The Chiefs also have a new coach in Dave Rennie and playmaker Aaron Cruden.

The city council's acting general manager for economic development and events, Lance Vervoort, said its cut of the ticket sales would be paid directly from the ticketing provider, ensuring ratepayers were not exposed.

The Chiefs will also be hoping their latest buys will mean a greater fan turnout next season after poor crowd numbers this year - just over 6000 fans were at their match against the Hurricanes in June.

"With the signings of marquee players Sonny Bill Williams - rugby's hottest property - and Aaron Cruden for 2012, the Chiefs will enter an exciting new era and we are hoping to see increased crowds for matches," Mr Vervoort said.

The Chiefs had previously held a sub-lease agreement with the Waikato Rugby Union, which had, until this year, held the sole heads of agreement for the stadium for 30 years. But negotiations were held after it was revealed the union had struggled to make rent payments and, when at its lowest point, was almost $1 million in arrears.

The Chiefs would pay the council all game day expenses, and the council would also receive revenue from food and beverage commissions and advertising signs.

The council and the Chiefs would not disclose the figures as the Chiefs continue negotiations with other venues in the franchise's region for their other Super rugby season fixtures.

Chiefs chief executive Gary Dawson said the franchise was thrilled with the deal.

"This is a ... direct agreement between the council and the Chiefs, and we believe it's a very positive step. It emphasises how important Waikato Stadium is to the franchise, and gives security and confidence to both parties."

Mr Vervoort said the deal also ensured the council received a minimum of $465,000 in years when the venue hosted test matches. Under the old deal the council received a total of $700,000 from the Chiefs and the Waikato Rugby Union.

The NZRU says Waikato Stadium will host tests next year and in 2013 against Ireland and Argentina.

- NZ Herald

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