Tennis: Meagre crowds in Tauranga mean financial hit

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Just 1250 people attended the entire Davis Cup Asia Oceania group I tie between New Zealand and Uzbekistan. Photo / John Borren
Just 1250 people attended the entire Davis Cup Asia Oceania group I tie between New Zealand and Uzbekistan. Photo / John Borren

New Zealand's already-threadbare coffers have taken an unwelcome financial hit with Tauranga's dismal support of Davis Cup at the weekend, although chief executive Steve Johns hasn't written off the city as a future host venue.

Tennis NZ are this week counting the cost of bringing Davis Cup to Tauranga and having tennis fans embarrassingly ignore the city's first cup tie, staying away in droves.

Just 1250 people attended the entire Davis Cup Asia Oceania group I tie between New Zealand and Uzbekistan - the same number Tennis NZ were hoping would attend Friday's opening singles rubbers at Mount Maunganui's new TECT Arena.

Although the crowds and results (New Zealand lost 3-2) were disappointing, Johns said the national body wouldn't rule out bringing more Davis Cup tennis to the city.

"It has been a difficult and disappointing weekend as far as attracting a crowd goes and we would have liked to see more people come along ...

but [contrary to ruling Tauranga out as host of future ties] if we get another home tie the first people we'd be talking to are from the arena here.

"Apart from the result and crowd support, it's been hugely successful. The venue is absolutely world-class and both teams have raved about it. But if we do come back I'd expect a bigger crowd from the mere fact people would be talking about it following this year, coupled with the fact there will be some knowledge in the community about what Davis Cup is."

Tennis NZ held the previous two home ties in Hawera - population 11,000 - with the 800-capacity near full for last year's tie against the Philippines.

Compare that to the weekend's Tauranga no-show, with 789 tickets sold or given away for Friday's opening singles but only 525 showing up. For Saturday's doubles, 425 punters were in the stands or corporate tables (653 tickets were pre-sold), and 298 watched Sunday's two singles dead rubbers.

As a sporting spectacle it was good quality, with world No 58 Denis Istomin a rare treat to watch as he marched the outgunned Kiwis all over the relocatable Rebound Ace floor.

But as an event it lacked atmosphere and bore all the hallmarks of the farcical Big Time Boxing hits the Bay promotion two years ago, when barely 500 turned up to the QEII Youth Centre for the ill-conceived WBO Asia-Pacific heavyweight title bout between American Indian Chauncy Welliver and Auckland-based former kickboxing champion Daniel Tai, leaving Sydney-based promoters Next Generation at least $50,000 out of pocket.

Tauranga is a hard-sell at the best of times - sport, theatre, concerts - and Davis Cup was part of the busiest sporting weekend in the city for a decade, competing for a crowd against the Surf League, New Zealand Open beach volleyball, New Zealand foursomes golf champs and Grant Clements Memorial tournament, 3-on-3 basketball and the Oceania masters athletics.

The beach volleyball and surf league took place side-by-side on a sun-drenched Main Beach, were free to watch and subsequently attracted massive crowds. The tennis was indoors, cost $30 and the timing clearly impacted on crowd support.

"This weekend was difficult with so many other things on, but Davis Cup is played in an international window and we don't get any say in that. If it was solely up to us we would have picked a different weekend because there was a lot else on here," Johns said.

He confirmed Tennis NZ would make a loss on the tie - a bitter pill for an organisation that survives hand-to-mouth and last year made a deficit of $63,000. Uzbekistan's flights and accommodation was covered by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) but Tennis NZ picked up the tab for everything else, including getting the officials (overseas and NZ-based) to Tauranga and trucking the court from New Plymouth and laying it.

Defeat means New Zealand will play either Chinese Taipei or China away in September. The loser will be relegated to Group II (the group New Zealand was promoted from two years ago).

If you think last weekend was tough to promote, then enticing people to pay to watch the Kiwis take on the likes of Pakistan, Hong Kong, Lebanon or Sri Lanka doesn't bear thinking about.

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