Super Rugby Aotearoa's success has been a godsend to the financially-stricken Blues. But the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the Auckland community has put serious doubt on this weekend's highly-anticipated closer against the Crusaders. Liam Napier reveals the financial cost of cancelling Sunday's sold-out fixture.
Cancelling the sold out Super Rugby Aotearoa finale at Eden Park could cost the Blues and New Zealand Rugby up to $1 million in lost revenue.
The Herald understands the 43,236 tickets sold for Sunday's match generates gate takings between $800,000 and $1 million, with net profit thought to be around the $450,000 to $500,000 range.
While the Blues continue to work through contingency plans and await Government advice on Friday as to how long Auckland will remain at Covid-19 alert Level 3 before making a final decision on the match, the 13 new confirmed cases announced on Thursday paint a bleak outlook for the game.
In her latest address to the nation Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed the situation would get worse before it improves.
New Zealand Rugby's preference is to stage the Blues match this weekend but if it cannot be played due to the Covid-19 restrictions head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum admitted the financial implications would hit all involved.
That includes New Zealand Rugby, who assumed a 40 per cent shareholding in the Blues franchise in 2018.
"Clearly in the case of the Blues it would be significant," Lendrum said on Wednesday. "A sold out Eden Park brings a large amount of gate revenue with it, and if it's not to be the case rugby, the club and the whole game will have to deal with that."
All five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises do not directly benefit from broadcasting revenue and, therefore, rely heavily on gate takings. For some as much as 50 per cent of revenue, which in previous, less supported years equates to at least $2.5 million per-season, is derived from crowd attendance.
After a series of seasons in which crowds plummeted, Super Rugby Aotearoa sparked the revival of interest and support in the New Zealand derbies since getting underway on June 13.
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The Blues in particular have savoured record crowds as fans flocked to Eden Park. Their highly-anticipated final-round match against the Crusaders this weekend was their second Sunday afternoon sellout of the condensed campaign.
The 42,000 crowd that attended the Blues' opening-round victory over the Hurricanes is Eden Park's largest Super Rugby turnout in 15 years.
Across their four home games since the first lockdown the Blues sold 150,000 tickets, averaging 37,000, which is around double the average attendance last year.
Earlier this week Blues chief executive Andrew Hore conceded to the Herald that after six years of deficits those crowds saved the franchise from insolvency.
It is understood NZR and the Auckland Rugby Union contributed $390,000 to help keep the Blues afloat earlier this season, with North Harbour unable to meet a capital call.
"It was scary leading into lockdown," Hore told the Herald on Monday. "Whether it would have folded could be classed as dramatic but it may have gone down into some form of hibernation.
"It's a relief. You understand that as the CEO you've got a responsibility to all of those families. Just like any boss or board you take those responsibilities very seriously.
"The five franchises were all in precarious positions so getting this competition off the ground, as with so many companies and industry in New Zealand, was a godsend for us. We've been very lucky that we've been able to do it.
"We're really appreciative of the fact people took lockdown seriously because it's not just the players – it's everyone from the cleaner to the burger salesman, security right through to Patrick Tuipulotu. Jobs were on the line."
While Auckland remains at alert Level 3 the Blues are unable to train as a team or travel beyond the city boundaries which makes the prospect of postponing this weekend's match unlikely. Players are management are, however, desperate to finish their season.
Ticketmaster said they were waiting further communication from New Zealand Rugby but their policy states fans should receive a full refund should the Blues game be cancelled or played without fans.
New Zealand Rugby's next concern will be the North versus South fixture scheduled for August 29 at Eden Park. The Farah Palmer Cup is also scheduled to start next week with North Harbour and Counties Manukau due to host games in Auckland.
At this stage, the Highlanders and Hurricanes match in Dunedin on Saturday will be played under restrictions of no more than 100 people at the venue.