Rugby

Blues return to Eden Park after costly fee waived

The Blues will return to their main home ground, Auckland’s Eden Park, for the revamped Super Rugby Aotearoa competition after the stadium and Auckland Rugby waived its hiring fee.

Confirmation comes after Eden Park had initially asked the Blues for a high fee - said by two sources to be around $30,000, but that figure denied by the Eden Park Trust -  to open the stadium for the games, given they will be played without crowds.

The size of that fee had prompted the Blues to look at moving across town to Mt Smart Stadium as the Warriors are now based in Australia for the resumption of league’s NRL.

However, that shift has been averted, with Eden Park confirming to Newsroom that the Blues will return to their traditional venue.

“Eden Park is committed to hosting the Blues for next month’s revised competition, Super Rugby Aotearoa,” Eden Park CEO Nick Sautner said.

“The health of our staff, athletes and patrons remains our priority and we’re working to build robust processes including physical distancing, hygiene, screening, enhanced cleaning and sanitation for team areas and trainings.”

Eden Park is the last of the five venues to confirm it will host matches in the revamped competition, set up after the regular Super Rugby season was abandoned due to the travel and gathering restrictions imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

The opening game of the all-New Zealand competition sees the Highlanders host the Chiefs at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 13.

The Blues host the Hurricanes at Eden Park the next day. Away teams will fly in for the games and return home that night.

Sautner would only respond to written questions, though none of his supplied answers provided information around the exact costs involved in hosting a Super Rugby match.

“With matches currently proceeding without patrons in the stadium, Eden Park and Auckland Rugby have agreed to waive their hire fees to reduce the operational costs and support a successful return of The Blues to New Zealand’s national stadium.”

Sautner also revealed that with no income for the past two months, some staff had been laid off, others had taken pay cuts and the board had forgone its fees.

“Eden Park is the country’s largest stadium and faces significant fixed expenses each month including rates, power, water, gas and interest on our historic loan from the Rugby World Cup 2011. Our operating costs are not subsidised and would be comparable to those of other stadia regularly hosting Super Rugby games.”

The lack of crowds is an issue because venues usually take a percentage of the gate revenue - a deal that incentivises the venue and hirer to attract a big crowd.

Venues also take all the money from catering which obviously disappears with no crowd.

While there is no income from games, there are still costs involved as even a game played in the afternoon will at least need lights for the second half, plus security and cleaning costs.

It’s understood the other Super Rugby venues have agreed to a nominal hire fee plus costs (like power, security and cleaning) but that those figures are well below the $30,000 that Newsroom understands Eden Park wanted.

There is also some optimism within the industry that when the Government reviews the alert level on June 22, spectators will be allowed into venues from the third round of the revamped tournament.

Sautner wants spectators back for the Blues' first game against the Hurricanes, saying Eden Park can safely accommodate 5000 patrons in 10 blocks of 500 using specific gates.

“Our facility has the infrastructure in place and technical capability available, such as contact tracing gathered through a bespoke app and ticketing, to be a leader in showcasing a safe and successful return to events.”

Up to 100 ticketed guests will be allowed in the venues for the opening matches, with those people likely to be sponsors.

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