Could a hotel, gym, wellness centre or even an on-site student hostel be the key to rejuvenating our largest stadium?
Eden Park chief executive Nick Sautner has just returned from the UK where he was awarded Executive of the Year at the Stadium Business Awards in Manchester - and picked up a few ideas that could help in his ongoing attempts to turnaround the sporting venue he manages and bolster arguments for initiatives he already has underway.
Sautner's itinerary also included a trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in April this year.
Spurs' new home sits snug against local housing, but will also host concerts and events beyond football - a point that Sautner is quick to highlight, given it mirrors Eden Park's location and controversy in some quarters over whether Mt Smart in light-industrial Penrose is better suited to host bands, and early-stage proposals for a stadium on the waterfront.
Sautner says Tottenham's new stadium is helping - which replaced a smaller venue on the same sight - "has breathed new life into the area and driven the sense of community."
He knows he won't ever have the budget for some of the £1 billion Spurs stadium's frills, like its fully retractable artificial pitch for hosting NFL games "without compromising the hallowed turf" but he sees it as a role model for a stadium as a multi-use community hub, and validation of his strategy.
"Tottenham's owner and management, working together with government at all levels have an ambitious aspiration to support a new sport, leisure and entertainment destination in London – one that will be vibrant 365 days a year," Sautner says.
He adds, "It is having a ripple effect, building confidence in the already well-established community, improving the local environment, attracting visitors and benefiting the local businesses.
"The new stadium will support 3,500 new jobs with an estimated £293millon pumped into the local economy each year — an increase of 1700 new jobs and £166million in spending [over the stadium it replaced]. This diversifies the spending and use of amenities throughout London, decentralising activities and events for the city. Given the congestion and infrastructure challenges in central London, Tottenham chose to rebuild on its existing site - being its spiritual home -rather than relocating to an alternative location."
AUT sport management lecturer Dr Richard Wright says the rise of football hooliganism in the 1980s saw new stadiums pushed to outskirts of UK cities. But with that threat receded, the trend has reversed, with new venues now being built closer to city centres - with a new appreciation for the business they can bring to an area and the role they can play as a community hub.
Auckland Council approves $63m bailout for Eden Park
Wright's view is that Eden Park - around 10 minutes from the CBD by train - is the right proximity to the city centre. He sees a similarly sized stadium on the waterfront causing traffic chaos. If he ruled Auckland, he would punt for a 20,000-seater at Wynyard Quarter to complement Eden Park.
Sautner was pleased to see Spurs introducing tours of their new stadium. Tours and other "stadium tourism" initiatives to pump in daily revenue ("Staydium Glamping", zip-lining and roof-top walks are also on his agenda) are all part of the ex AFL player's attempts to diversify revenue that helped secure his award.
Wright is not a fan of Sautner's (so far unsuccessful) bid for Eden Park to host up to five big concerts a year.
The AUT academic sees scope for one concert a year, "possibly on a long weekend like Queen's Birthday when a lot of the locals are out of town," but otherwise he's happy for concerts to stay at Western Springs and Mt Smart.
Wright's rationale is that it's hard for a stadium operator to make money from big events, widely spaced across the calendar. To move the needle on finances, he sees daily revenue as the key.
The sports management lecturer likes what Sautner is doing in that area, including the Nelson Mandela exhibit on until August, but he would push it harder still.
Having now secured a $63m package from Auckland Councillers (over the objections of Mayor Phil Goff), Eden Park is now in a much stronger position than when the Herald profiled Sautner and his turnaround project in March.
The council package consisted of $6.5m interest-bearing loan, a $40m interest-bearing loan, a $9.8m grant and an unutilised $7m loan facility.
But Eden Park still needs to get on a sounder footing.
Wright doesn't see its two major tenants - Auckland rugby and cricket - ever being good earners in the modern era, where they can draw fewer than 10,000 on a bad day and would be lucky to double that when on a roll. And the international calendar is scant. Eden Park only has one All Blacks fixture scheduled before year's end (against the All Blacks on August 17) and only one date with the Black Caps (the November 10 T20 against England).
He would install a gym and a wellness centre to get daily revenue coming in the door. He sees both as a natural fit for a sports area.
Wright also notes the trend for hotels to be couple with stadiums in the UK, such as the Hilton Old Trafford, a Marriott that "helped bring Twickenham back from the dead", and the Millennium and Copthorne hotels plus a shopping mall located at Chelsea FC's ground, Stamford Bridge, which also features a shopping mall.
And don't necessarily confine your thinking to upmarket accommodation, Wright says, as he floats the idea of a student hostel at Eden Park, too.
He also sees some kind of memorabilia museum or "All Blacks experience," as a sitter for the ground.
He says the stadium's number two ground is crying out to house those sorts of initiatives.
Sautner says hotels were a hot topic at the conference in Manchester but not something in his immediate plans.
But he is open to Wright's other proposals.
"Eden Park is continually exploring new methods of utilisation and looking for opportunities our community can benefit from. We're in discussions with a leading university to develop a fully integrated partnership, and have previously investigated creating a community recreational facility with a large gym network," Sautner says.
"The Samsung Community hub has been launched at the Park recently and its intended the space will be available for both commercial and community bookings for the likes of health and wellness events."