After 24 seasons, the Wellington Lions are poised to exit Wellington’s main sporting venue and downsize their home for NPC rugby matches, in a sign of the provincial game’s battle with low attendances and challenging finances.
Newstalk ZB has revealed discussions are advanced between the Wellington Rugby Football Union (WRFU) and Porirua City Council to stage all home Wellington NPC and Farah Palmer Cup games at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua from next year.
The suburban ground, with a capacity of about 2000, has already been used as a regular venue for the Wellington Pride in the Farah Palmer Cup and a growing number of Lions NPC games since 2020. The 35,000-capacity Sky Stadium has remained the main base until this season.
New WRFU CEO Tony Giles confirmed discussions are taking place around a permanent shift away from Sky Stadium.
“We’re currently looking into how we can best connect the provincial game with its fans and stakeholders, and the feasibility of doing this,” he said.
Giles said discussions with the Porirua City Council are “ongoing”, with no agreement signed off yet.
The expected move comes amid a struggle to generate income in the provincial and grassroots levels of the game. WRFU’s professional arm lost nearly $700,000 during last year’s season, despite resounding success on the field which included the Lions’ first NPC title in 22 years and holding the coveted Ranfurly Shield.
The union was saved from being insolvent last year courtesy of a $1 million windfall from Silver Lake.
A move away from Sky Stadium would drastically cut venue hire costs for home games, and be seen to provide a more attractive and intimate fan experience, following several seasons of declining crowds and eerie home games with near-empty stands, despite the Lions’ recent on-field success.
The Wellington Phoenix recently made similar moves for their women’s A-League football team, moving a handful of home games away from Sky Stadium to Porirua to be more financially sustainable and create a better atmosphere.
It’s understood the Porirua City Council is prepared to meet some of the costs of staging the matches.
The council’s recreation manager, Glenn Quintal, said the financial commitments are still being nutted out, and discussions continue with WRFU.
“The feasibility is still being worked through by all, so [it’s] too early to tell,” he said.
“Porirua City has been very clear of the challenging financial environmental territorial authorities are operating in, so will need to make future decisions accordingly.”
Porirua Park benefited from this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, where the changing facilities were upgraded. However, Quintal confirmed all matches will need to be held in daytime hours, due to the lack of floodlights.
“We are aware that the park is not fit for night-time broadcast. This is not in our plan to upgrade,” he said.