Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Fans will growl over Lions ticket costs

Lions tour of NZ will be roaring success but even NZR admits prices to see test matches sure to be steep.
The Lions were last here in 2005. Picture / Brett Phibbs
The Lions were last here in 2005. Picture / Brett Phibbs

With the same inevitability of ice-cream melting on a hot day, there will be an adverse public reaction next month when New Zealand Rugby unveils ticket prices for the British and Irish Lions tour.

It won't matter what they come up with. The top-priced tickets will be the headline item and the shock and outrage will follow, complete with well-rehearsed arguments about rugby no longer being a game for the people.

NZR will be the bad guy - as always - seen as the greedy beast with no feel for their constituents.

The reality isn't quite so stark. NZR are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hosting the Lions is big business. Huge.

The Australian Rugby Union most likely would have ended the year insolvent in 2013 had it not been for the near $25 million they netted from hosting the Lions.

No one wants to dwell on this but, because the Lions come only every 12 years, NZR need to maximise the commercial revenue from hosting. The Lions are a brand like no other and come with huge numbers of affluent travelling fans who will pay to be at tests.

Already demand in the UK is higher than it was for the tour to Australia in 2013, reflective perhaps of the view New Zealand remains the ultimate challenge for the Lions.

The difficulty for NZR is striking the balance between being commercially smart and not excluding loyal New Zealanders whose disposable income doesn't come close to those travelling from Britain and Ireland.

As much as the Lions are a giant pay day, they can be an inspirational force, too. They are the only team left who conduct old-school tours and their presence here should be seen as a phenomenal chance to drive interest in the game, particularly among school-aged kids.

As part of the balancing act, NZR know they can't repeat the mistake they made in 2005 when the Lions were last here, of treating those with provincial memberships as second-class citizens.

There was considerable dismay and anger that many long-term provincial members, who were guaranteed test tickets as part of their package, were bumped to inferior seats so Lions fans could have them.

In Christchurch, in particular, where the weather was horrific on the night of the first test, the ill-feeling was lasting given that many genuine provincial stalwarts were forced to sit in the teeth of the southerly that night.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew has acknowledged that's a mistake that can't be repeated next year. He also implied yesterday that the ticket pricing is likely to be similar to the approach organisers took at the last World Cup.

The best seats for the tests will probably be the most expensive tickets in New Zealand rugby history. Prices for other seats at the tests are likely to be more expensive than usual as well but the quid pro quo will be that the tour games against Super Rugby sides will have significant numbers of cheap tickets to encourage families and children to get along.

Some tickets were priced as low as £7 for children during last year's World Cup.

The most expensive seats at the final had a ticket price of £715, which was about a 10 per cent increase on the highest price for a ticket to the 2011 World Cup final at Eden Park, which was $1250.

Tew acknowledged that not everyone will agree with the policy.

- NZ Herald

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