NRL: Auckland set for five years of NRL Nines

By Steve Deane

Auckland Mayor Len Brown this morning led the official announcement that a multimillion-dollar NRL Nines tournament will be a feature of the city's summer for at least the next five years.

"This a very exciting announcement,'' Mr Brown said at the event's official launch at Eden Park. "Auckland has secured a five-year partnership with the NRL to host an annual Nines tournament. It's the first time the 16 clubs of the NRL have played in one place at the one time.

"For our city, the event city not just of New Zealand but one of the great event cities of the world, this is another significant sporting event.''

NRL chief executive David Smith said the tournament was a great chance to build the game's profile in New Zealand.

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"This is a fantastic opportunity to grow our game in New Zealand and for our clubs and players to share in a significant new investment in rugby league,'' Mr Smith said.

"It is an exciting format that will attract new fans and television audiences and it provides a stage for rising stars to emerge and showcase their skills alongside the biggest names in our game.''

While a carnival atmosphere akin to Wellington's Sevens tournament is expected, the games will have a serious edge.

"Make no mistake, the 16 teams will be there to win,'' NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said. "Clubs have already started making their plans for camps and trials in New Zealand to make sure they have the best possible build-up to the Nines. It's a unique style of play and it will really showcase the skills of our players.

"There is certainly a lucrative prize on offer for the winner and once the teams take the field everyone will see just how determined they will be to perform well and win the inaugural Nines crown.''

The NRL Auckland Nines received some heavyweight support in the immediate lead up to today's launch from State of Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley and arguably the game's greatest coach, Newcastle Knights mentor Wayne Bennett.

Meninga said the event "will be our advertisement for rugby league around the world'' while Daley forecast a "wonderful spectacle'' from "some of the best players in the NRL''.

Bennett said the NRL Auckland Nines "is going to be a great celebration of rugby league and the Knight's can't wait to be a part of that''.

Promoter Dean Lonergan expects the tournament to become a fixture on the city's sporting calender and the presence of all 16 NRL clubs with star line-ups to attract close to the capacity crowd of 96,000 fans to Eden Park over two days.

"I can't see why we won't go close to selling this out in the first year," he said. "It is a monster event."

Auckland Council's events arm ATEED has committed to paying up to $9 million in sponsorship fees to Mr Lonergan's company Duco Events and up to $3 million more in additional "leveraging" spending, but only if a tournament it views as the anchor event of the city's major events strategy hits its targets in terms of revenue generation and visitor nights.

The event would be expected to generate $2.8 million in additional GDP for the city and 32,800 visitor nights in its first year, with those numbers rising to $6.8 million GDP and 43,000 visitor nights by the final year of the five-year contract, ATEED's general manager destination and marketing Rachael Carroll said.

ATEED's investment was its second-biggest behind only the Rugby World Cup 2011, and the potential to showcase Auckland to the lucrative Australian eastern seaboard tourism market was significant.

"Australia for us, from a tourism perspective, is bread and butter and we need to continue to keep those numbers rising," Ms Carroll said. "This will show Australians that New Zealand is more than just a skiing trip to Queenstown."

The city was a sponsor, rather than an underwriter, so the financial risk was minimal, Ms Carroll said.

While the Nines concept initially attracted criticism in Australia because of fixture congestion a host of star players, including Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen and Willie Mason, are understood to have pledged their support for the event.

Concerns about the quality of the squads on display appear to have been allayed. The 16 clubs are contractually obliged to include 12 of their top 25 players, and one of the top five earners in their squads.

Some clubs have pledged to field their top teams as they pursue the winner's cheque of A$500,000 ($577,000) from the total prize pool of A$2.25 million.

Prices for the two days will start at $49 for children and $69 for adults.

"We want to make it affordable for rugby league people and sports people in general," Mr Lonergan said.

Auckland NRL Nines

*Confirmed today at press conferences at Eden Park in Auckland and in Sydney.
*First tournament February 15 & 16, 2014.
*All 16 NRL clubs will compete, and will include at least 12 of their top 25 players in their squad, and at least one marquee player.
*Games will be two nine-minute halves. Pools of four then knockout matches.
*Auckland Council to invest up to $12 million over the next five years.
*Event expected to generate $2.8 million in spending in Auckland and 32,800 visitor nights in its first year, rising to $6.8 million and 43,000 nights by year five.
* A$2.2 million prize money on offer, including A$500,000 for the winner.
*Ticket prices: gold adult $229, child $179. Silver adult $149, child $109. Bronze adult $99, child $79, green adult $69, child $49, family pass (for alcohol-free zone) $309.
*On sale, September 24.

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