Covid-19 alert levels: Eden Park’s Super Rugby Aotearoa headache

Eden Park boss Nick Sautner has a big wish – an announcement that later this week of Auckland moving to alert level 1 for the weekend.

And with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, it would be even better to get the word within the next day or so.

He said Eden Park is working on the assumption that the alert level will drop to 1 for this weekend’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Blues and the Highlanders.

But he’s given up on achieving earlier forecasts of a crowd of between 30,000 to 40,000 for what will be the first home game for a strong looking Blues team on a family-friendly Sunday afternoon kickoff in late summer.

Instead – because of the uncertainty following the Valentine’s Day community outbreak – the park is projecting a turnout of around 25,000 which will be a blow to those staging the game and hundreds of neighbouring businesses hoping for a shot in the arm following a lean summer.

And even worse would be Auckland remaining at level 2 over the weekend.Sautner said this could mean around 50 ”pods” of up to 100 fans – if they could bother with the hassle.

“I think a lot of people will say it’s all too hard and they’ll watch from home.”

The latest outbreak has meant the cancellation of a pre-season ”Footy Fest” game between the Blues and the Crusaders and the shift to Wellington of the Black Caps’ T20 match against Australia last Friday night – a game that could have attracted more than 30,000 and would have been popular with corporate guests.

A neighbouring business organisation says many of its indebted members faced a nightmare because of the uncertainty over when alert levels will shift.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Ministry of Health announced another day of zero community cases but because of the potentially long tail of the Valentine’s Day cluster concentrated in Papatoetoe, Auckland for now remains at alert level 2 which prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people.

Sautner, an Australian who says he’s relieved to be living in this country given New Zealand’s health response to Covid understands the challenge facing officials and the Government over alert levels, but wants clearer signals on when changes can happen.He also wants them to know how tough it is for the event sector.

“Eden Park is being paralysed by the continual changes in alert levels and it is almost impossible to plan and continue business with an ever-changing level of certainty.”

For each cancelled event the stadium misses out on hundreds of thousands of dollars following 2020 when a sold out North versus South game was cancelled along with some Blues matches, two All Black tests and T20 cricket.

Eden Park has a permanent staff of just 30 but around 3000 are employed for a big match to provide cleaning, catering, security, traffic management, medics, facilities, turf management, maintenance, and operational staff.

Planning for a big match takes weeks with public transport, standing up casual staff and ordering drink and food for patrons who during a big game can down 47,000 drinks and munch through more than 10,000 portions of chips.

While grateful for the wage subsidy for Eden Park staff during past year when some had taken an 80 per cent pay cut, Sautner said that was a “drop in the bucket” compared to lost revenue as a result of Covid-19 disruption.

In spite of disrupted schedules and big match cancellations, annual membership had largely held up, commercial partners had stayed loyal and there was still good demand for the 72 corporate suites which a rented out for $80,000 a year. However, continued disruption could change this, he warned.

The Dominion Road Business Association has estimated the financial impact lost from six events a year could cost up to $2 million a year.

In Kingsland and Morningside, The Fringe District manager Claire Baxter-Cardy says yo-yoing between alert levels was a ”nightmare” for the 300 members, nearly of third of which were in hospitality.

”They’re borrowing to keep their businesses open for an event that may not happen.”
She said the businesses wanted clear criteria over what would shift alert levels and a review of rules for resurgence support that is now available.

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