WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Poor crowds at the Canterbury Crusaders’ two Super Rugby playoffs this season were a sign that Christchurch’s rugby fans had had enough of their temporary stadium, according to the franchise’s chief executive Hamish Riach.
About 10,000 people braved atrocious weather that sparked a civil defence emergency in Canterbury last week against the Otago Highlanders, while only about 13,000 turned up in far better conditions for the semi-final on Saturday.
A rebuilt 21,600-seat venue at Rugby League Park in Addington was rushed into action following the 2011 earthquake that condemned Lancaster Park and was considered to be just a temporary fix until a new multi-purpose arena could be built as part of the city’s reconstruction.
“We’ve been talking about it as a temporary stadium and it’s not Christchurch’s future solution for major events,” Riach told Fairfax Media on Sunday.
“The city needs to think about it, talk about it and resolve the future (and) I think (Saturday) was a really clear signal that the fans are saying that, too.
“They’ve put up with that stadium for five years and they’ve been happy to do so ... but we all thought it was for five years and then we’d have something else.”
Riach said the bad weather that hampered the quarter-final against the Highlanders and then frigid, southerly winds and driving rain in the days leading up to the semi-final had probably put most people off.
“I think we were getting a reflection on the experience people had the week before at the quarter-final,” he said.
“Fans were just simply not prepared to do that again, even though the forecast was pretty good. It just put people off.”
New Zealand’s central government and the Christchurch City Council announced earlier this year they would conduct a pre-feasibility study for a multi-purpose indoor venue in the central city, with a report due in August.
The lack of a proper facility meant that Christchurch, New Zealand’s third largest city, did not host any of the three recent tests against the British and Irish Lions, with New Zealand Rugby ruling out the current venue as too small to generate significant ticket revenue.
A new stadium, considered one of the anchor projects for the city rebuild, was supposed to have been completed in time for the Lions tour, but the Council approved funding to extend the life of Rugby League Park until 2022.
Riach said the low crowds and the uncertainty over a new venue was now a concern for the franchise, who have been hampered financially, but they would just have to live with it for the time being.
“There is no magic wand here, there is no instant fix,” he said. “There’s certainly not a new multi-purpose arena just around the corner.
“We’ve got to make the very most of that facility for a little while yet.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ian Ransom