Faced with mounting debt and a sorry-looking events calendar, North Harbour Stadium bosses admit they are worried, but are pleading with their supporters not to abandon them.

And they are determined that their futuristic three-and-a-half-year-old Albany stadium must not become a $20 million white elephant. There is even talk of test cricket in the survival stakes.

There remains a feeling, and not just among those at North Harbour, that greater Auckland has too many major sporting venues - a situation many fear will only worsen if the proposed Manukau stadium goes ahead.

With Eden Park, Ericsson Stadium, Pukekohe Stadium, Western Springs, North Harbour Stadium, Carlaw Park and a number of indoor venues, Auckland already has more than enough facilities capable of hosting the city's relatively small number of major sporting and entertainment events.

When the value of the stadiums is equated to the potential market, the over-abundance of big-event arenas shows, simply, that there are not the number of backsides to put on seats the stadium bosses need to survive.

In Auckland, only Eden Park, the home of major rugby games and one-day cricket internationals, can count on the necessary revenue stream.

North Harbour Stadium general manager Graeme Running acknowledges that the financial woes have been ongoing since the opening in March 1997.

And, he admits, it goes much deeper than not attracting people through the turnstiles.

"Our biggest income-earner is from five-year seat-holders," Running said. "They, not the people through the gate, will play the major part in repaying the initial $18 million principal."

But, and this is Running's biggest concern, these people, who paid between $2800 and $140,000 for their initial five-year deals, might not be back if the stadium has nothing to offer.

"We know just how crucial March 2002 will be for the future of North Harbour Stadium," Running said. "We have to have an events calendar in place which will be attractive to these and other potential seat-holders. Without their ongoing support we will be struggling."

That may lead to a reduced pricing structure when the renewals come around and could mean a 20-year, rather than 15-year repayment term.

"It has been a worrying time from the beginning, but I think the seat-holders have had value for money. We start off each year with little or nothing on the calendar, but different things come along. We get by," Running said.

The loss of the Football Kingz to Ericsson Stadium was a telling blow for Running.

"We were counting on them being here again this summer. They helped to fill a void. If we look at what we have in place for the next six months, we have to be honest and say there is not much."

Losing the Kingz has made Running even more determined to get out and sell the stadium.

"The gloves are off. The battle lines have been drawn and we are in for everything. I felt the Auckland Warriors belonged at Ericsson, just as the Kingz were ours. Now things have changed.

"Anything can happen," said Running, who is not discounting an approach to the Warriors. Just as he is not ruling out the possibility of seeing cricket tests played on the stadium's under-used outer oval.

"Perhaps not this summer, but by 2001-2002 we hope to be ready to bid for big cricket in a relaxed village green-type atmosphere. The outer oval was originally seen as a cricket ground, but when the proposed North Harbour cricket body fell over, so did it."

From the start, with access and other problems, the stadium failed to attract the really big crowds. Only the opening Blues v Chiefs Super 12 rugby game, the rugby test against Fiji and the 1999 test against Manu Samoa have filled the stadium to its 25,000 capacity.

Other big crowd-pullers have included last year's world under-17 soccer final between Australia and Brazil (19,500), this year's rugby test against Tonga (20,000), the 1998 Anzac league test (24,000), the World Cup soccer qualifier between the All Whites and the Socceroos (23,000) and the Cliff Richard concert (17,200).

Those figures, Running admits, stack up, but he and the trustees - and the North Shore City Council, which has picked up $6 million of the ongoing debt in anticipation of a naming rights sponsor - must have more.

"It is a community facility," Running said. "The outer grounds are well used, with many different sports being played. But they don't pay the bills.

"If we could be guaranteed two capacity crowds a year we would be happier. It is a purpose-built football stadium, not really a concert venue. That is where we must continue to look for our support."

That and anything else to make it attractive to that core of early supporters Running wants back.