Discover more from The Bounce
Fixing our troubled stadium fleet
A guest post on an endlessly vexing issue; Mo Farah's revelations; The BYC; and Fox's Open hopes.
We kick off this edition of The Bounce with a guest piece from Brian Finn, a public affairs consultant and communications expert. It is a pointed takedown of the self interest of the Eden Park Trust Board. I find it hard to disagree with most of what he says.
At the recommendation of a friend, I am reading a very old Tom Clancy novel, Red Storm Rising. Set some decades ago, it somewhat spookily details a World War triggered by Russia.
As this fictional world inches towards conflict, there is much angst about aging naval fleets and whether they will be up to snuff when NATO and Russia clash.
The notion of old, poorly-equipped ships came to mind when I read “Eden Park needs Christchurch Stadium built to attract global events to NZ”. It is an op-ed in the New Zealand Herald written by Eden Park Trust Board chairman Doug McKay.
Here was an aging and no-longer fit-for-purpose battleship - Eden Park - giving advice to another city, Christchurch, on how it should go about building its sleek new missile destroyer – a purpose-built, covered stadium (which is already well down the track on design and costing but thanks for the unsolicited advice).
However, the Eden Park Trust Board chair’s advice wasn’t really about Christchurch, was it?
That was evident pretty early in the piece: “Some in Auckland think a new Waterfront stadium is the answer to all our prayers but Eden Park has most of that and with very modest upgrading could have the whole lot too,” McKay wrote.
And there you have it – slipped in with the kindly advice is a not-so-subtle ask for even more public funds.
Unlike Christchurch’s future stadium, Eden Park is not publicly owned or controlled. It is governed by the Eden Park Trust Board. Its beneficiaries - notionally the people of Auckland – are, in fact, Auckland Rugby and Auckland Cricket, who receive a host of benefits, priority access and cold, hard cash from happening to be, historically speaking, the first tenants of Eden Park.
That money flow, however, is one way. Eden Park is now reliant on public funds to survive. It has been for a while, first for the major redevelopment in time for RWC 2011 (don’t mention the stadium war), then a series of grants and debt relief from Auckland Council in 2019 for much-needed maintenance, some of which turned out to be a new big screen (meanwhile, the West Stand leaks when it rains). The Trust Board was back cap in hand again just last month, asking council for a special top-up of funds to, among other things, fix the dang leak.
So, please, tell us about your plans for a modest upgrade. How much will that be? We’re all ears.
McKay went on to extol the virtues of “a great stadium fit for purpose for rectangular events and other activities like concerts”. How would he know? Eden Park is neither rectangular. Nor is it fit-for-purpose.
Just like gigantic battleships, the age of the multi-purpose stadia has gone. Across all of Australasia, there are only two cities that do not have a major rectangular (football codes) stadium and an oval (cricket) stadium. They are Auckland, which does not have a genuine oval, and Wellington, which uniquely has two ovals.
The chairman goes on to highlight the importance of “an outstanding fan and player/performer experience”.
Again, the battleship has forgotten that it’s been parked in the wrong place, is not typically a great venue outside the 80 minutes of footy and, like all of Auckland’s stadia, has forgotten that this city has the highest rainfall outside of one small valley in Fiordland (yes, I exaggerate, but this week it did feel like that).
But most amusingly, Doug McKay counsels Christchurch’s potential new stadium operator to not “try and be all things to all people”. Point of order Mr Chairman, but that is EXACTLY what Eden Park has been doing for 20 years – and failing at all of it.
Just a couple of years ago, Eden Park spent millions of dollars (reader note: remember who is now funding Eden Park) on a bid to host concerts. It pitched that bid on a promise to attract new, never-before-seen concerts to the people of Auckland. Since then, it has hosted one concert, Six60 – previously in residence at council-owned Western Springs. It has booked Guns N’ Roses, also a former tenant of Western Springs, and Ed Sheeran, who set records in a three-night stop at Mt Smart Stadium only four years ago. As for the just-announced Billy Joel Concert, it’s worth noting the Piano Man has played Mt Smart twice (1987 and 1998) and Spark Arena (2008). According to some Auckland residents of longer standing than me, he also played the Logan Campbell Centre.
The revenue from these shows is literally being siphoned away from council venues, where the surplus they generated went back into providing community facilities, services and support. The same council that has a $1 billion revenue shortfall; the same council that Eden Park is asking for money to fix its leaky lounges.
Sports fans who like lots of space around them may want to take note of Doug’s other advice – notably that “the country doesn’t need more at this size more and Eden Park fits that bill perfectly with the ability to upgrade and go even bigger”.
(Quick question – is that bigger stadia, or bigger egos?)
That statement reeks a little bit like a superpower telling other countries not to try to match them – after all Battleship Eden Park “fits that bill perfectly”.
Also, the Eden Park that is too big for all but a handful of All Black tests and the odd Super Rugby final wants to get BIGGER?
Doug acknowledges this (sort of) when he notes that “maintenance and depreciation for rarely used facilities is an ongoing heavy financial burden”.
And that is the nub of Eden Park’s forever problems: it will always be the wrong size for frequent use; it will always be in the wrong place; and until its ownership is genuinely connected to community needs and not private interests, it will never be cost-effective to operate.
In and among the gratuitous Eden Park self-promotion, there was a glimmer of logic. It is that a country the size of New Zealand should take a network approach to managing its stadium assets. It’s absolutely the right course of action.
The irony is that the suggestion came from Eden Park. Auckland Council or its agencies has at least twice asked Eden Park to come into a shared stadium operation with its three outdoor stadia – North Harbour, Western Springs and Mt Smart – and each time, Eden Park Trust Board has rebuffed the offer.
So much for collaboration.
Auckland’s current and future representatives should be thinking long term about a pathway to a proper stadium set-up for the city. Dunedin, Hamilton and Tauranga/Mt Maunganui have all solved it. Christchurch is working on it as we speak.
A robust Auckland plan should look to retire the leaky battleship in Mt Eden and some of the rust buckets that surround it (that’s you Mt Smart), and work towards a fit-for-purpose, covered facility for football and events, and one for cricket.
Let’s not commit any more public funds to a sinking ship.
Brian Finn runs public affairs consultancy Engage Group and has worked in the stadia sector. A former head of communications for New Zealand Rugby, he was closely involved in the successful RWC 2011 bid and the tournament itself. Regrets, he’s had a few, most notably not being a better advocate for a new stadium at that time.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on 15.7.22 to include the Billy Joel reference after his Eden Park concert was announced.
ANOTHER BIG READ
The Mo Farah story is by turns disturbing, enlightening and, when you realise what he has done in athletics, awe inspiring.
As so often in the case in these rags to riches-type tales, the turning point was a single person who took the time to listen.
Sir Mo’s PE teacher, Alan Watkinson, noticed a transformation in the young boy when he hit the athletics track.
“The only language he seemed to understand was the language of PE and sport,” he says.
Sir Mo says sport was a lifeline for him as “the only thing I could do to get away from this [living situation] was to get out and run”.
He eventually confided in Mr Watkinson about his true identity, his background, and the family he was being forced to work for.
The BYC returned after a long week’s absence. There was a bit to chat about, including this incredible story about a fake IPL tournament set up to trick Russian punters. I mean, how?!
We dig into the Ireland ODI series that has produced one thriller and one game that was more uncomfortable than it should have been. It’s raised a few interesting questions, including this: Can anybody call themselves a spinner and ask for a bowl in a game so long as they send down a bit of junk in the nets beforehand?
The Open Championship starts tomorrow night. Links golf is always an intriguing watch, and the Old Course at St Andrews even more so due to the fact it has just 11 greens; plays all the way out to nine and all the way back to 18; and the signature hole has railway sheds encroaching on the right and a road and wall at the back of the green (it was on this hole that Michael Campbell played his miracle shot on to the green when his ball was just inches from the steep face of a bunker).
It’s a special place. All these people say so.
ESPN tells us who can win and who can’t. In which category do they put Ryan Fox? In “Tier III: Hey, miracles can happen”, which might be selling his talent and form short.
As a reader noted his Open tilt lines up with the last test over which his father Grant presided as All Blacks selector. A big week for the fantastic Foxes.
One of the reasons I rarely use Twitter is because I have this recurring nightmare where my body is snatched by dark forces and I end up tweeting a silly piece of false-equivalence nonsense. Like this poor bloke, who just had his body snatched.
This would be the Muhammad Ali who made public service announcements aimed at encouraging families, but particularly black families who were in many cases disengaged from the medical science community, into vaccinating their children.
The same Ali who fought racial injustice and was a leading figure in the civil rights movement.
The same Djokovic who pushed anti-science conspiracy theories and tried to circumvent the rules of a country to play in a tennis tournament.
Yeah, I can see how they’re peas in a pod basically.