Going to the big game - are you getting a fair deal?

By Kris Shannon, Michael Burgess

Falling ticket prices and sold out stadiums shows 'balance right'.
The All Blacks are still a value-for-money proposition judging by ticket sales. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The All Blacks are still a value-for-money proposition judging by ticket sales. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Other teams may be struggling to lure fans off their couches and into big stadiums, but the All Blacks are still a value-for-money proposition judging by ticket sales for tonight's test against Wales at Eden Park.

The double world champions are blooding a host of exciting new talent in the three-test series, playing in front of a sold-out crowd in Auckland before moving to Wellington where Westpac Stadium will need additional seating to handle the interest.

Such fervour from fans means tickets can be difficult to acquire but, according to figures provided by New Zealand Rugby (NZR), demand exceeding supply hasn't led to price increases.

Tickets for children were initially set at $20-$50, the same amount charged for an equivalent test in 2014, and a family of four could attend tonight's match for $160, which marked a $20 decrease from two years ago. Overall, adult prices were the same or lower in six of the eight seating categories, the remaining two categories increasing by $5 and $10.

Prices also compare favourably to a decade ago. NZR said the top categories tonight - up to $150 for the best seats in the house - were at a similar level to 10 years ago and increases in other categories were in line with inflation.

"It's about finding the right balance," said Nick Brown, NZR general manager public affairs. "New Zealand Rugby wants the All Blacks to be accessible and to fill all the venues the team plays in."

On the other side of that balance, revenue from test matches accounted for 15 per cent of the overall revenue pie - far less than sponsorship, but still significant when it came to offering competitive contracts to players whose heads are turned by offshore salaries.

Brown said the fact that Eden Park was able to hang the "sold out" signs from the gates suggested "the balance was about right" for the prices set.

For rugby fan John Davison, who is travelling from Hamilton to see the game, tickets to tonight's test were "pretty dear", but the attraction of the All Blacks proved too much to resist.

You don't mind paying that kind of money for a night of entertainment that's a little bit different to what you normally do.
John Davison, rugby fan

Davison, semi-retired and attending the game with his wife and daughter, paid $100 each for tickets through Visa pre-sales, willing to spend a little extra for covered seats.

It's his first taste of the All Blacks since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, marking the game as a special occasion and deserving of the financial outlay.

"I think sporting tickets in general are far too dear," Davison said. "Paying $100 for a seat to watch a game isn't great. But you don't mind paying that kind of money for a night of entertainment that's a little bit different to what you normally do."

Davison equated a night at the rugby with one at a major concert, having in recent years travelled to Auckland to watch the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac.

While he said an 80-minute rugby couldn't quite compare to a three-hour gig, the quality of the product was on a similar level.

"I was keen to go because I wanted to see what the new players in the backline were like," he said. "And going to a live game is always attractive, when there's a big crowd and everything like that."

Davison also said watching the rest of the series from the comfort of his couch was another option.

"That's why we don't go to a lot, I suppose - you're sitting at home on a cold night and you can see everything, all the replays, slow motion, you get commentary. But going to the game is an experience."

NZR said around half of the 50,000 tickets for tonight's game were made available through a general public sale in April and the majority of the rest were set aside for various pre-sales.

It all makes for a competitive marketplace and that will only be more fierce when the British & Irish Lions tour these shores next year.

Tickets for those three tests will be sold only through a balloting system and prices will be higher, in recognition of an opposition who visit once every 12 years.

Live sport venues fall a bit flat

Ticket prices for sporting events in New Zealand may be comparable with the rest of the world, but the stadium experience still has some way to go.

That's the overwhelming reason why sports across the country are struggling to attract fans, many of whom prefer to watch the action from their armchairs.

There are two main reasons. The first is the experience, which can fall a bit flat. Overseas visitors have often been surprised by the lack of atmosphere at sporting events here, where crowds tend to be on the quiet side. The appeal of live sport is the tribalism, the passion and the feeling you are part of something. It doesn't really matter what sport you are watching - if there is genuine engagement between the supporters and their team/athlete, it becomes unforgettable.

Think of England, where football fans travel the length and breadth of the country to follow their team. Or cricket in India and Sri Lanka, where crowds provide a mix of noise and colour.

It happens occasionally here - for an All Blacks match, a Warriors game, a Phoenix clash or with the Black Caps. But it's the exception rather than the norm, which makes the decision to remain in your lounge an easier one.

The second are the stadiums themselves, which don't compare well with overseas venues. Often fans are a long way from the action - like at Eden Park and Westpac Stadium - which makes any attempt to generate atmosphere difficult. The food options remain somewhere between limited and awful and the security is often heavy-handed and authoritarian. In this regard the Australian venues put ours to shame.

- NZ Herald

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