“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.” – Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront, 1954
Auckland has three stadiums that are almost good enough to contend with their tenants. The Blues’ Eden Park, The Warriors’ Mt Smart and the unanchored and unloved Albany Stadium are all just about good enough for what they’re used for, but not quite. And in the last few weeks it’s been suggested that something is done about this.
The proposed solution to these almost good enough stadiums is to create one stadium in the CBD that is good enough. One stadium to rule them all, how terribly cliche’d New Zealand. The proposed waterfront ground would become the home to the Blues, the Warriors, Auckland Rugby and the visiting Phoenix.
The proposed size is 40,000, expandable temporarily to 60,000, allowing for those big All Blacks fixtures and the modester crowds drawn to Blues, Warriors and Auckland Rugby game (averaging 10,000, 15,000 and 4,000 respectively in 2015). There’d still be a hell of a lot of empty seats, mind, exactly like the current Eden Park.
However, the combination of all the teams would mean the stadium is used more regularly, far more than Mt Smart or Eden Park is currently. 11 home Warriors games, 8 home Blues games, 5 Auckland Rugby games, the annual Wellington Phoenix game and 2 or 3 International test fixtures. That’s not bad, I guess.
As a solution it’s attractive for a whole number of reasons. It would allow Auckland to have a proper cricket venue at Western Springs, it would retain Mt Smart as a high quality speedway circuit. All of the economic concerns around Mt Smart and, particularly Eden Park, would be consolidated. Instead of two money pits, we’d have one big money pit. Perhaps that’s not the best analogy.
It’s also attractive because it does something that the previous stadium movement plan; involving the Warriors anchoring at Albany, Mt Smart going to speedway and Western Springs turning into a Tamaki Makaurau Basin Reserve, avoided. It deals with the fact that Eden Park cannot possibly make money if it remains the size it was redeveloped into for a few glorious weeks in 2011.
But money is just of much of a problem for the new proposed development. Building a stadium out onto the wharves would be expensive, far more expensive than the $550 million estimate from 2006. The potential for cost overruns create justifiable concerns about pouring a billion dollars into a stadium around the same size as Eden Park, which already doesn’t make money and is regarded by supporters as an atmosphere sink, except at All Blacks games.
There are prime examples to back up this caution. Japan cancelled their proposed stadium for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics after it could not justify the cost. Valencia have found themselves stuck in their old Mestalla stadium with the Nou Mestalla standing unfinished as a result of the economic downturn. Wembley stadium, a warning of the perils to those seeking to build a national stadium, cost $2.1 billion in total.
Number 8 wire culture has led Auckland into its almost good enough situation for it’s sporting venues. It’ll do, she’ll be right, don’t worry about it. It does sound exciting that the city could have a 21st century stadium, a statement piece for the waterfront (that links up with the new CRL too!) and the potential for branding opportunities in the centre of the city.
The concrete (glass and steel) benefits are organisational, with the shuffling of venue purposes giving Auckland a wider range and higher quality of venues for rugby, football, cricket and speedway. That makes sense.
The economic benefits are murkier though, relying on an increase in crowds at the downtown venue and the draw of cricket at Western Springs and speedway at Mt Smart.
And looming above all of these issues is the big question; who’s going to pay for it all?
Will the idea of the waterfront stadium, a taut, inspirational gorgeous image, fall prey to the passage of time and become bloated, immobile, a pitiful shadow of its past? After all, that’s what happened to Brando.
North Harbour Stadium
P.S I forgot about Albany for most of this. But that’s OK, everyone does. Sorry, NZF.
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.