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Guest Post – Do you hear the people sing?

[Exactly a fortnight ago on this bandwidth I made the case for a 10,000-12,000 seat stadium in Petone. Today, in the interests of a balanced debate, Zio Steve,’s Phoenix season ticket holder in residence, presents the other side of the argument.]

By Steven Hill

Fran Wilde Walk

Fran Wilde Walk

There is a symbiotic relationship between a professional football club’s owners and its fans.  The fans need a rich benefactor, who hopefully loves the sport as much as they do, and the owners need the fans to pay their money at the gate every week so they can pay the bills.  One cannot exist without the other.  The fans are the club’s customers and we know that, in a business, the customer is always right.

In our part of the world there is an added complication, the stadia are, more or less, owned by the local council.  Democratically elected councillors represent the citizens and are charged with looking after their city and its amenities; and in a democracy the voters are always right.  The voters and the councillors have a very similar symbiosis, albeit with the voters having a regular opportunity to wield ultimate power over the mayor and councillors.

But wait, there’s more.  Because these days, even public amenities have to be run as a profit making business, the stadia have a separate management/board who are charged with screwing as much profit as they can out of a public amenity that is, (let’s face it), a monopoly.  If that wasn’t enough then just to make things even more convoluted the fans and the club owners, (in our case), are also the voters as well as the patrons of the Ring of Fire.

Given all that, and the fact that we’re mostly grown adults, don’t you think that we could all play nicely together?  The council has a duty to ensure the stadium management provide a good facility for their voters.  The club’s owners have a duty to provide the team with everything they need to let them perform to their best and to get as many people to watch the games as possible, and finally the citizens have a duty to unselfishly pressure the council to act responsibly and to spend their money wisely on facilities the city needs and no more.

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So what’s the problem?  The small crowds combined with the cost of using our stadium makes it uneconomical for Welnix to own the club.  Is the answer to build another smaller stadium to create some kind of capitalist utopian competition which will magically make everything wonderful?  We can follow Auckland’s example with duplicated, half-baked, and underused facilities in bad locations, (I agree with Enzo on this).

If you cut through all the fluff in the letter that the Phoenix sent to season ticket holders you’re left with three things that the new stadium will offer that Westpac doesn’t (at the moment).

  • having the seats twenty metres closer to the action, (less than the distance from front row to back at any large stadium),
  • having community groups and/or open competition for food and drink stalls, and
  • having a children’s play area.

Does anyone think that these changes will get 3-4,000 more people to each game at a much less convenient location?  It may be a similar distance from a couple of railway stations but there are at least half a dozen intersections to cross – mind that child.  Methinks Dr Morgan and the mayor of Lower Hutt are both getting a classic politician’s case of edifice complex.

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Is it really the answer to build another smaller stadium, or should we ask some hard questions to try and find out why the crowds are dwindling?  There’s been alot of complaining on internet forums about lousy overpriced food & drink and the lack of a roof.  Has there been any market research to look at these and other things like ticket prices and the times games are played?

Does anyone remember Athletic Park?  Dilapidated, rusting, grotty, cold dump surrounded by chicken wire.  It had around 40,000 places to sit and a fair percentage of those didn’t have a clear view of the pitch yet it sold out for every Hurricanes game and close to it for the Lions and even New Zealand v Watford in 1982 got a decent turnout.  Westpac Stadium sold out for such fixtures in the first few years of its existence too.  Now the rugby crowds are barely bigger than the Phoenix can muster too.  Is there a common denominator here?

There’s another place where I agree with Enzo, Westpac Stadium is the best outdoor sports stadium in New Zealand.  Public access is unsurpassed in Australasia, except perhaps for Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.  The rake is about perfect so the view from every seat in the house is unrestricted and the aspect from every seat is to the centre of the playing field.

It was built with the cooperation and money from all of Wellington region’s local authorities.  The greater Wellington region does not need to spend another $45 million duplicating it in a different location.  Wellington’s citizens, (Phoenix fans, owners, and the rest), need to pressure the council to instruct the stadium management to get their act together and give us what we deserve.  Welnix could spend a fraction of their proposed contribution on a marquee player.  I’d wager that would boost crowd numbers to more than a “boutique” stadium could hold.

[Steven Hill is a Wellington based Arsenal fan and Wellington Phoenix season ticket holder. He’s also my uncle, which probably explains the congenital Roma sympathies :-) ]

Categories: A-League

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here:

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