Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Blues eager to ditch Eden Park, support waterfront stadium for Auckland

The Blues rugby franchise, one of Eden Park's core tenants, support the idea of a stadium in Auckland's CBD and would be happy to leave their spiritual home.

The Blues' board considered the issue at its meeting last week and decided it would support in principle the construction of a football-specific stadium in the central city rather than continuing at the suburban ground where they have played for 20 years.

The main issue is one of size. This season the Blues have attracted crowds of just over 20,000 to both their matches at Eden Park against the Highlanders and Hurricanes, but the 50,000 capacity stadium has been less than half full.

Following the Herald's recent coverage of Auckland's stadium debate, fuelled by council stadiums boss Chris Brooks' comments about the city having to decide whether to continue putting money into Eden Park, and added to by Warriors boss Jim Doyle, owner Eric Watson and major sponsor Vodafone, all of whom have expressed support for a football venue in the CBD, the Blues today sent a statement to the newspaper indicating their own support.

In it chief executive Michael Redman said the franchise "would seriously consider any proposal presented to us to become a core user", adding: "[we] will continue to work closely with the Eden Park Trust to improve its functionality and the game day experience for our members and fans within the operational and infrastructure constraints".

Asked about those constraints, Redman said feedback from members and supporters had raised such things as parking and accessibility, but the biggest issue was the ground's size: "The reality is the [Eden Park] capacity is a strength and weakness. We've had very strong crowds this year of just over 20,000 for our first two games but that is less than half the capacity. Historically we probably only have one round-robin game a year where we might need a 30,000-plus capacity."

An artist's impression of a waterfront stadium in Auckland's CBD.
An artist's impression of a waterfront stadium in Auckland's CBD.

Redman said the Blues had a "really productive and supportive relationship" with the Eden Park Trust. Trust chairman Doug McKay could not be reached for comment.

Redman said a stadium with a capacity of 25,000-30,000 would be ideal for the Blues to "provide a good business model as well as a venue with a great atmosphere and fan experience".

The Blues won their three Super Rugby titles in 1996, 1997 and 2003 in front of a sold-out Eden Park but the reality now is that, as far as rugby is concerned, only the All Blacks are able to fill it.

Redman said neither he nor the Blues board had informed New Zealand Rugby of their stance. New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew today said: "We have a current arrangement with Eden Park and will leave any discussions on a new stadium to the wider Auckland community."

Redman said the issue of the Blues helping to fund a new stadium, which Sport and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman recently said could cost $1 billion, had not come up.

"That's not a matter that the board or the shareholders have considered. What we're signalling is that the challenge for any venue is to balance the needs of the core users week in and week out - the teams playing there six, eight, 10, 12 times a year, and the capacity and facilities we need versus the one or two events per year that might require 50,000-plus. That's the central issue from our point of view - what is it that's being debated at the moment? Is it the national stadium that can take those really large events or is it a purpose-built stadium for the core users, perhaps rugby and league and football?"

- NZ Herald

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