After a sluggish start, ticket sales for the upcoming NRL Auckland Nines are tracking well and on par with numbers from this time last year.
Nines organisers Duco Events admit to having held concerns before Christmas about ticket sales for the fourth edition of the short-form Eden Park pre-season tournament but are pleased the New Year has coincided with an increase in purchasing from punters.
"We're doing really well," Duco Events general manager of the NRL Auckland Nines Trina Tamati told Radio Sport's Martin Devlin today.
"I was a little bit apprehensive before Christmas but things have doubled up.
"We're tracking past the 20,000 mark which is really good, and 200 to 300 a day at the moment. So things are looking really good."
Last year's tournament reported an attendance of 37,000 and sales are currently tracking to at least match that number for the two-day event over Waitangi Weekend February 4 and 5.
"Things are on par with last year and just about to overtake it," she said.
"It's looking good. And if the sunshine stays out we're going to have a bloody good event."
With another year still to run on their current five-year Nines contract, Duco have moved to diversify the event with the creation of a 'singles zone' for unattached fans that are keen to mingle.
While the focus of the Nines has previously been on the on-field action rather than what occurs in the stands, Tamati says the initiative is driven by a need to attract new audiences.
"We're trying to make an event open and welcoming to all different types of groups and we want to make sure and let people know that the event is still fun and it's still got that fun factor to it."
Both Duco and the NRL are aware of the potential for a 'singles zone' to attract negative connotations, and both organisations are eager to maintain and enhance the game's integrity around issues regarding respect towards women.
Both parties are satisfied more than adequate security measures will be in place to ensure controversies are avoided around issues of intoxicated patrons and the potential for unsavoury incidents.
"We take that side of things very seriously. But we've created an event that is both equally family-oriented as it is fun and the management process of intoxication inside the stadium is huge for us and we've got a massive process in place that monitors and regulates and ensures everyone is safe."
"It's important to me that we (women) are respected and that every element of the tournament has that in it.
"At all stages we are mindful, respectful and continuously pushing for the integrity of the game and to make sure that females are always at the forefront of our mind, in terms of respecting them and in the decisions that we make."