Any taxpayer money stumped up by the Government to help establish the NRL Auckland Nines would have gone straight into the pockets of promoters David Higgins and Dean Lonergan, insists Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment rejected two applications to its contestable Major Events Development Fund for Nines funding, decisions Mr Joyce endorsed.
An application by Auckland Council's events arm Ateed — which is investing $10 million over five years in the Nines — expressly stated the $1.5 million requested would be spent on marketing the tournament overseas and developing its legacy programmes.
Ateed's application was rejected partly because of positive early ticket sales, which indicated the tournament would be a success, documents received under the Official Information Act show.
Mr Joyce said that meant any taxpayer funding would have gone into the pockets of Mr Higgins and Mr Lonergan.
"It would have increased the returns to Duco [the men's company], of that I am absolutely confident.
"Let's flip it around — we have an event that is already successful and profitable by the time it starts and the Government decides to tip in some extra money just for the hell of it. Then you [media] would be after me."
Mr Higgins rejected the assertion that the success of the event was already guaranteed by the time the Ateed application was rejected.
"From a cash flow perspective we only just got through. We needed a key deposit clause waived, had to borrow $200,000 from a supplier and had to negotiate an emergency overdraft."
Mr Higgins said that given the ministry's continued funding of a golf tournament underwritten by rich-lister Sir Michael Hill, Mr Joyce's view that government funding would simply have boosted the Nines' profit margins was "cute".
"It seems strange to worry about whether Dean and I were going to make money over and above the best return for the taxpayer.
"Does Mr Joyce really think if they tip a million dollars into the golf event, someone is not benefiting by saving themselves a million bucks?
"It's cute to defend the dishing out of millions to established wealthy causes like golf and yachting and then not support a rugby league event in its very formative stages that ticks all the boxes."
Ateed is poised to announce the sold-out inaugural Nines tournament exceeded its financial targets.
Mr Higgins said future funding decisions should be made with a view to a return on investment. He did not believe Mr Joyce had received sound advice from ministry staff.
• For full coverage of all the Nines action, and the events surrounding the event, click here.