The 2019 Downer New Zealand Masters Games recorded a financial loss and a 3.2 per cent drop in participants following a huge effort to turn around the event on its 30th anniversary.

The number of competitors for the 10-day event held in February was down by 137 (3.2 per cent) on the last time Whanganui hosted the event in 2017 which left the games in financial trouble and resulted in a restructure.

That was a similar decline to those recorded between the 2015 and 2017 events.

And while there was a push to get locals on board - only 1295 people from Whanganui took part - a decrease of 22 per cent.


The Masters Games is 49 per cent owned by the Whanganui District Council and hosted in Whanganui every two years with Dunedin hosting it on alternate years.

A report on the 2019 games presented to council on Wednesday shows 4242 competitors took part in the event.

That was made up of 58 per cent male participants and 42 per cent female. The 45-49 age bracket made up the largest number of entrants at 680 people.

The preliminary financial result shows the 2019 event ran at an estimated operating loss of $19,150.

Total revenue was $741,810 and is made up of Whanganui District Council funding, sponsorship, registration fees, sundry income and commission.

The event's expenditure came in at $760,960; however, not all revenue and expenditure has been finalised.

Whanganui district councillor and Master Games chairwoman Philippa-Baker Hogan.
Whanganui district councillor and Master Games chairwoman Philippa-Baker Hogan.

The report estimated that the 2019 event put $2.9 million into the local economy.

Master Games trust chairman Leighton Toy told the council that overall the trust was "really, really pleased with the event" and that it provided a huge economic boost to Whanganui and local sporting clubs.

"I can't stress enough how difficult the financial juggling is," he said.


Toy said there had been much discussion about what could be done to improve the event for 2021 and planning needed to get under way early.

Councillor and Masters Games Company chairwoman Philippa Baker-Hogan suggested it would be worth council taking on the $20,000 loss to help kickstart the next games in Whanganui.

"I personally believe that this council and this community would support the underwriting of the financial loss because of the need to move forward," Baker-Hogan said.

"The fact this puts $136,000 into our sporting clubs makes a real difference, it carries these clubs through for the next few years."

Councillor Graeme Young said he was disappointed to see a decreased number of Whanganui residents taking part.

"I should suggest some research there might be needed, an easy way to build numbers up would be getting locals involved."

Toy said the marketing campaign outside of Whanganui was strong but the marketing within the district could be improved for the next event.

The 2019 event marked the first naming sponsor in 10 years of the event for Whanganui, with Downer coming on board.

"From the trust perspective we're keen to continue working with Downer, we'll be looking to open conversation with Downer in coming months for 2021 games," Toy said.

Meanwhile, Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the event had been well worth it for the district.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall.

"If you told anyone that for $20,000 you could get millions of dollars of spending in Whanganui, you'd take that," he said.

The report showed that gym sports had a record 257 per cent increase, going from 21 competitors in 2017 to 75 in 2019.

Indoor netball, open water swimming and twilight bowls also had significant increases in participation.

Rowing, softball and dog handling were cut from the 2019 event due to an insufficient number of competitors or lack of resources.

McDouall said that was disappointing.

"Rowing is our sport, its Whanganui's sport and it's really disappointing it had to be cancelled."

Last year Arthur Klapp, organiser of the first games in 1989, told the Chronicle three things can happen to events over time: they can fade away, they can stabilise or changes can be made for an event to take off again.