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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Walk-up crowd failed to show for Crusaders

Walk-up crowd failed to show for Crusaders

Last updated 05:00 29/03/2011
The empty seats told the story.

While the Crusaders will return a small profit from their Super foray into London, chief executive Hamish Riach knows it fell well short of solving the financial troubles they face because of the earthquake.

With AMI Stadium damaged, the Crusaders hoped to attract up to 55,000 fans for their relocated "home" match against the Sharks at Twickenham, but only 35,094 tickets sold.

Although it earned them more than staging games at Nelson's Trafalgar Park, which has a capacity of about 12,000, the Crusaders are still faced with the serious challenge of filling their coffers.

Initially, ticket sales roared along like a wild bushfire, with about 20,000 selling in less than 48 hours, but then slowed markedly.

Riach hoped a bigger walk-up crowd yesterday would have allowed them to draw in 40,000 fans and would not rule out switching the scheduled match against the Blues from Timaru on June 11 to a bigger stadium to generate more income.

Eden Park could be a possibility to stage that match, but that may not be greeted with much enthusiasm by the players.

"It has not been the blockbusting financial result we might have hoped for, but we certainly covered our costs and made a little bit and have been part of a unique occasion," Riach said.

"We are satisfied it was worth it."

While they hoped to tap into the massive New Zealand and South African expat communities in London, there was always a fear they would not have long enough to market the match.

With less than two weeks to promote the fixture, there was little chance to fully expose the rugby population to the history-making match.

"People here have said they think we did pretty well to get in excess of 35,000 in 10 days in a busy and cluttered market," Riach added.

"We are kind of sitting here thinking it has been an adventure, worth it and special, without being the financial hit we had hoped."

The disappointing crowd, however, is likely to cause a rethink among those who said such fixtures should be staged in London regularly.

By taking the match to England, the Crusaders, who are already in a parlous financial position, risked bleeding more money if they did not attract a crowd in excess of 32,000.

When they learned that figure had been exceeded yesterday – it is believed a walk-up crowd of about 3500 nudged them into the profit zone – the Crusaders board would have wheezed a sigh of relief but would have been disappointed not to get more.

With about $11 from each ticket being donated to the earthquake appeal, almost $400,000 was raised and the Crusaders will also aim to negotiate some costs that would be "materially significant" in other areas.

When asked if the franchise would do it again, Riach would not rule out the prospect, but he now knows there is a real risk involved in doing so.

"I think so. There has been a lot of interest in the Crusaders and some of that has been a sentiment of the earthquake and some has been in support for the Sharks. It does show the Crusaders had some appeal. It would be nice to tap into it. How often we could get up here, we would have to see."

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