The Lions….too big for NZ?
Right, I am just going to come straight out and say it….is New Zealand too small for the British and Irish Lions to tour anymore?
Before angry and irate kiwi rugby fans rush to lynch me, let me just get my points across for why I ask this question.
My main gripe with this upcoming series this year is the stadiums – NZ’s top stadiums just aren’t big enough.
Unfortunately, since the first big Christchurch quake back in 2011, Jade/AMI Stadium in the Garden City was left unusable which quickly left the country with only one stadium which can seat 40,000+ fans. For this years tour, Auckland will host two tests in Eden Park and Wellington will get one test at the Westpac. Both of these stadiums hold 50k and 36k (approximately) respectively. Compare these stadiums with those on offer when the Lions tour South Africa and Australia and they are quite a lot smaller. Smaller stadiums obviously mean less people get to see the games live, in person.
Now I understand that NZ is a country with a small population – that’s something that most people who live here see as a benefit – but its not great when you have 4 countries worth of fans (plus other rugby mad fans from around the world) descending on the nation wanting to see the games. For three test matches that equates to available tickets of around 136,000 seats available, which when you consider the numbers of fans that will be heading here to support the Lions, this is nowhere near big enough. And that’s not even factoring in those tickets that will be hoovered up by the corporates/sponsors.
Talking of sponsors, the corporate hospitality allocation will remain as large as it has for other tours (if not larger), but will take up more seats in NZs smaller stadiums. Who does this affect? Well it directly affects Joe Public who wont be able to readily get tickets as the potential allocation will already be down on what would normally be available. Add this reduction of tickets in the mix with the NZ Rugby Union’s ballot process for this tour (where fans had to register months ago in the hope that they would be drawn in the ballot to be eligible to buy a test ticket) and just getting to a game becomes something to stick in the “too hard” basket.
Kiwis are terrible at attending live sports anyways (just look at Super Rugby and NPC Rugby attendances over here to see that nobody goes), so as soon as the test match ticket prices were announced (ranging from $150 to $450+) and the fact that a ballot was in operation, most dismissed it straight away saying that they’d just watch it on TV.
The NZ rugby union are fixated on keeping rugby as the main sport in NZ and are terrified that soccer and other sporting codes are getting more popular every year (probably down to the large expat populations that now live here), so surely to “combat this” more tickets should be allocated to the public at lower prices and not through ballots? Kids get engaged and fall in love with sports when they are exposed to it and I can’t help feel that many from this generation will be left out if they can only watch this event on Sky TV.
Another thing to factor in to this for the travelling fans is NZs transport infrastructure, or lack of it. As amazing as it is for rugby fans in this country that games are being played from Whangarei in the North to Dunedin in the south, unless lions fans have a camper van hired or an itinerary of internal flight tickets booked, there’s no passenger rail network to quickly transport fans around the place. Heck, just getting from Auckland’s CBD to Eden Park is a mission! (I recommend that people walk as its quicker than the train…seriously, James and I have proved this from past experience!). Its only today that the NZ Herald have run a story indicating that if any Lions fans are thinking of heading here and are yet to sort accommodation, don’t bother as Hotels in Wellington and Auckland are pretty much all booked up (possibly as options were already limited without an army of rugby fans descending on each location!).
I am sure the points I have raised above will annoy some, but I feel they are legitimate ones. Realistically, not playing the AB’s is not something that will ever be passed up for a Lions tour as they are the world’s best international team, in the world’s most rugby mad nation, but when compared to other tours which the men in red undertake, this one seems limited on many levels.
Despite the above, I cannot wait for this years tour as I appear to be one of the lucky few that has been selected in the ticketing ballot, so second test here I come!