Uni rugby contract attacked

Harlene Hayne.
Harlene Hayne.
The University of Otago has come under attack from its own staff for its decision to sponsor the Highlanders and for sharing a space on the team's jersey with an alcohol company.

The backlash came after the university on Monday announced a two-year sponsorship agreement with the Highlanders, becoming New Zealand's first university to back a Super Rugby franchise.

Vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne yesterday defended the decision in the wake of attacks from staff and Alcohol Action NZ, saying the university, like all others in New Zealand, spent money on advertising and sponsoring the Highlanders was a good way of getting global exposure.

Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott said he had taken calls from staff members upset about what he called a ''very contentious'' decision on how best to spend ''public money''.

''It's something that does evoke reaction from staff at a time when they are having to cut back on costs and in some instances staff,'' Mr Scott said.

Staff also questioned whether the move was the best way to attract students.

''The university attracts students due to the high-quality teaching, research and supporting activities undertaken by high-quality staff, and should focus on this rather than associating itself with a sports team.''

Some union members also felt the agreement went against assurances given by the previous vice-chancellor.

Doug Sellman.
Doug Sellman.
Mr Scott said Sir David Skegg had said university investment in the stadium - through the University Plaza building - was related to its operations and ''not a blade of grass nor a single seat'' would be funded by the university.

''To now directly fund the rugby team that is the prime user of the stadium makes a mockery of these assurances in the eyes of many.''

The union hoped to discuss the decision with Prof Hayne and wanted it brought up at the next university council meeting.

Alcohol Action NZ medical spokesman Doug Sellman, of Otago University's Christchurch-based National Addiction Centre, took issue with the university backing a sports team also sponsored by Speight's.

''Alcohol Action NZ view this co-sponsorship deal with a booze company to fund the Highlanders rugby team as compromising the stand the university has previously taken about non-association with ammunitions, tobacco and alcohol companies,'' Prof Sellman said.

The deal undermined the ''excellent work the university'' had done to try to curb the damage alcohol was causing students in Dunedin, which included banning all alcohol advertising on campus, he said.

Prof Hayne said in a statement that it, like all New Zealand universities, spent money on marketing, and sponsorship was ''recognised as a marketing tool'' for gaining brand exposure.

''This approach, in turn, yields the income that is necessary to fund the salaries of the staff who work at those universities, build the buildings they work in, and fund some of the research they conduct,'' Prof Hayne said.

She recognised some staff might be unhappy about the deal.

''The university is a very broad church. It will never be possible to establish a sponsorship arrangement that is supported by everyone.

''My job as the vice-chancellor is to establish effective sponsorship arrangements [to] provide the best and broadest exposure for the University of Otago both from within New Zealand and from overseas.''

She said the sponsorship contract was with the Highlanders, not Speight's.

''We will carry on with our good work to reduce the damage caused by alcohol to students in Dunedin and the alcohol on campus policy remains.

''We consider the stadium to be a safe and fun place for students to go and socialise and enjoy a good night out.''

The sponsorship deal came from the existing marketing budget and would not result in less money being spent in other departments.

The deal split Otago Daily Times readers who commented on the story online, with some hailing it a sound marketing decision and others calling it a waste of taxpayer money.

A poll on the ODT website yesterday afternoon showed 53% were in favour of the deal and 47% opposed.

Otago University Students Association president Ruby Sycamore-Smith said it did not have a problem with the deal.

''It's an innovative way of marketing for the university, which also shows they're supportive of the greater Otago community which students and staff are a massive part of,'' Ms Sycamore-Smith said.



A great answer Sparrowhawk.

"Wake up and appreciate what we have before its too late and the developers have turned us into 'just another soul dead concrete jungle'"


Yes. Have and are

1) Everyone: the entire community. All affected like it or not.

2) We have had influxes of Aucklanders getting out of the rat race immigrate to here to buy decent affordable houses with the profit from their Auckland over-priced ones they had to work so hard to have. We have also had loads of resettled Cantabrians running from the refit of Christchurch where buildings are being ripped up and shot up without regard for the needs or feelings of the locals goaded by a centralised govt intent on reshaping regardless.

3)We have loads of people from the U.K., Australia, Netherlands, and even the odd Yank over here trying to get away from the crazy over-built over-populated areas they came from.

But all you can do is winge about the place we have and try and turn it into a clone of the places others are trying to escape from.

How do I know? I once was one. Lots of my friends and clients are. Wake up and appreciate what we have before its too late and the developers have turned us into 'just another soul dead concrete jungle'.

But would they?

Sparrowhawk: Who is everyone?

That's a big if

Sparrowhawk: Worse case scenario, at least everyone would have a job.

Holding back judgement

The problem with waiting to see how things pan out and waiting until they are 'proven' is that now we have the stadium black hole that is killing our city finances, whereas those of us that trusted the pre-build stats knew what would happen back when, and it has.
The same could now be true for the oil. All the happy clappies are wanting it and will very quickly change their tune if the worse case scenario occurs as has done with the stadium. But by that time it will be too late. The damage will be done and the ratepayers will be up for the clean-up costs on top of the stadium debt.
Let's be clear. The only people that benefit from these ill-thought-out high risk endeavours are the suits that bleed the money out of us and take it elsewhere. There will be no sudden boom, no return to the gold rush, as a result of Anadarko's high risk puncturing of our sea floor. If it works that money will go the the U.S. and Auckland, and into off-shore bank accounts as well as to foreign drilling specialist who they will import and who will fly home every few weeks not spending their money here.
Then you will have your proof. But once again, it will be too late to save Dunedin ratepayers.

Appalling decision

What an appalling decision by the University. I would have expected more of this Vice Chancellor but it appears she is as firmly a part of the old boys network as her male predecessors.

And for the President of OUSA to come out in support of this decision is nothing less than shameful.[abridged]

Not anti everything

Body Boarder: I support oil drilling and any economic development in Dunedin. I do not support the stadium because it has been proved to be a financial black hole sucking the life blood out of the city.
You are correct in that people will support hotels over motels when tariffs are slashed as they have been. If you know anything about the accommodation industry you would know that even hotel occupancy of an average of 63% is low by NZ main centre standards. The point is that Dunedin is lagging economically and the average stay of only 1.6 nights proves tourists are just passing through.
Both hotels and motels employ people, use services such as laundry, cleaning products, and food products to name but a few. Motels and hotels are making do with fewer staff and are unable to undertake few if any capital improvements. This again has a flow on effect on other local businesses.
The accommodation sector is one of many struggling in Dunedin - business closures have been well documented and George and Princes Streets have plenty of empty stores. Check NZ Stats and the recent census if you don't believe just how bad Dunedin is travelling. High unemployment, low wages, poor economic growth. That is a fact and has nothing to do with anti anything.

Blame the management not the players

@Hype O. Thermia: I'm not a rugby fan(atic) but to the blame the Highlanders players for the appalling financial management of Otago rugby is somewhat unfair regardless of their mediocre on-field performance. The financial failure falls to a whole heap of others. That the players are therefore some " ... of NZ's most expensive beneficiaries .." is unfair. That is the consequence of who they play for. I would posit that some of our elected and unelected 'officials' and their mates are even more expensive 'beneficiaries'.


Stevensone57 manages to do something amazing in his comments. He takes a positive for Dunedin (increased visitor numbers) and manages to turn that into a negative. Typical anti-everything reasoning.

I would suggest that the reason for the drop in motel numbers, and increase in hotel numbers would be the quality of motels being offered. Why pay good money for an average motel in a not so convenient location, when for the same price or just a bit more you can stay in a 4 star hotel?

Build it and they will come

A few contributors here have spoken about the big turnaround in Dunedin's fortunes. They say more people are visiting the city and that the stadium is an asset. The latest figures from NZ stats do not support that view.
Visitor numbers for 2102-2013 were up only 300 on the same period last year (0.1%) whilst domestic visitors were up 3.8%. It is interesting to see that hotels have enjoyed an increase of 13% in average occupancy to 63.3% whilst motels had a modest drop of 0.1% to 59.9%. The increase in hotel occupancy numbers is more than likely a result of the slashing of tariiffs to remain in business. The fixed costs of operating a hotel are very high and therefore they must keep people coming through the doors regardless of the profit margins.
Many of the family-operated motels simply cannot keep solvent by reducing tariffs to gain occupancy, as evidenced by a large North Dunedin motel going into liquidation recently. If the motels on George Street get the initial visitor business, which is understandable, those outside the city limits are operating on occupancy rates far less than the 59.9% average. Anything less than 50% occupancy rates are financially unsustainable.
It is a myth to suggest that the stadium is a windfall for accommodation providers as the NZ statistics numbers prove that theory to be false month after month. Most motels in Dunedin operate on a leasehold basis, which is a fixed cost regardless of occupancy Many of these leases were written when times were good. When occupancy drops to the current levels operators cannot afford to pay their leases or must borrow money to stay afloat. Many are waiting for better times ahead, but as yet they are not seeing much light at the end of the tunnel. 

For research

Sparrowhawk: I think the idea is (as expressed elsewhere) that some parts of the university are using this as a way to attract more brain damaged rugby players for research purposes - I think the beer swilling rugger bugger crowd will eventually diminish as the research pays off and the brain damage decreases.

One doesn't equate to the other

As a business person I am not opposed to a new Hotel nor am I opposed to oil exploration. I am utterly appalled at the waste of $20 million per annum on the stadium. As a business model it is about as bad as it gets. Those who believe just because you don't agree with one thing you are opposed to everything are barking up the wrong tree.

Promote excellence, attract quality

Digger hits the nail on the head, raising the branding issue of  "whether that is the image you want to project for the university".  While there have been some highly intelligent professional rugby players who have made their mark in positive ways after their playing careers were over, there are also too many who hit the headlines for drunkenness and violence and get jobs exploiting their fame because that's the best they can offer an employer.  Rugby players - and this is not just rugby, other sports are the same - have to have highly developed skills and fitness, no doubt about that.  But academic excellence?  Analytical skills?  Original research capabilities?  

Otago University has high achievers in exciting fields - exciting to young people who aim for excellence, who are ambitious to go on to careers where they may be high earners, may make a difference through advances in medicine, computing, green technology, a just society.  Why are the University's own star performers, its own (research) teams' achievements, not being used for marketing?  Wouldn't this funnel the money into more useful areas ?  

As for "raising the profile" there is no need to raise the profile of the University to the masses, it's not a burger franchise.  The people who need to be aware of it are those who want to attend a University with high academic standards, so when they graduate their degree really means something, and those people make the effort to thoroughly examine the reputations of the universities, and the quality of the courses they intend to take, before making their decision.  We don't need any more students whose reason for coming here is the "party" life, couch-burning, drunken antics publicised on youtube and facebook, or a crummy rugby team that has spent years unable to organise themselves to manage their own finances and has turned into one of NZ's most expensive beneficiaries.

Young drunks

How can you miss seeing the young drunks in Dunedin and the rubbish left on the streets after their parties.

If you are offended by that stereotype imagine how you have made the 'older people' feel.


Wrong headed

lily: I think more importantly the university using the Highlanders  for advertising is wrongheaded, most if not all high school students in Otago and Southland will have been exposed to university outreach through their school, many will have already had one or more trips to the university before choosing a campus to go to. Sponsoring the highlanders is likely to be wasted money, those who see the uni's crest on the field will only recognise it because they already know about the university, those who don't recognise it wont benefit from the advertising.

If their real intention was outreach, and I'm sure when they talked to the uni's own department of marketing they would have been told, they should be  sponsoring a team in a market where they would have some actual impact - Christchurch and/or Auckland are obviously better candidates than Otago.

As John points out the Highlanders are a commercial for profit team, they don't need sponsoring, if they want to make their image better, better than the self entitled, money grasping, image they have now in Dunedin, they'd be better off sponsoring the University, perhaps those Dept of PE courses that the uni used to justify its support for the rugby stadium but then subsequently cancelled.

Simple answer and something to chew over

nighttimejohn (and others) you don't seem to understand even though it's stated time and time again - the University IS a commercial enterprise! And a very successful one at that!  It just a shame they don't pay full land use rates to the council........

And I digress now, but where have all the wowsers been while the University's very own rugby club has been sponsored by - wait for it -  beer brands - Check out their website. The club has been sponsored by one or the other for over 20 years now and that's as far back as I can remember due to my tender age. How many other university clubs or organisations are sponsored by alcohol brands and/or drinking establishments?

And what's wrong with that either?

On the bright side……...


Perhaps this team could go alchol free to set a new trend that life is worth living without it?

Fat chance I know but how can one turn around this bad decision? 


Rugby and booze

I agree.......

'more beer swilling Rugger Buggers' would be the very thing that would put me off coming here.

Cut the advertising

So London 3 you want the 'fun times' to attract students. More like the $ signs me thinks. Perhaps you run a business?

Otago University get more street cred by calling on its experts to report on issues on radio and TV than any advertising of sponsorship of rugby. 

Decisions where to study are made on the 'good name' of the insitution and like a good restaurant this is usually 'word of mouth'. This means supporting the acadaemic staff and their work to the max.

I would cut back on the advertising and let the world know that this money is going into the core reason the university is there. 

Rugby heads

I see a direct comment has been made which I think underpins a lot of the objection to the deal. Basically the impression that people who like rugby are beer-swilling, pig-headed, obnoxious louts. As a female "girly" Masters student with a full scholarship, and also season tickets to the Highlanders, I find that stereotype highly offensive. I enjoy the game and the atmosphere, and frankly, find me a student who can afford the $7 beers at the stadium anyway. Go to a rugby game, go to the local pub - the majority of people in New Zealand with an alcohol problem are older people.  

Rugger Buggers

I don't agree with that, Sparrowhawk. More "rugger buggers" means more bums on seats at the stadium which will mean less financial support will be rquired from the ratepayers. You can't have it both ways.

Frustrated future

This has nothing to do with the Highlanders and all to do with the stadium. Why? Because when the Otago Polytechnic sponsored the Otago Volts no one blinked a eye, however when the Uni wants to sponsor the Highlanders all hell breaks lose. What's different apart from the game they are playing that could cause such controversy? The stadium.

Having a tight relationship helps ensure the long term future of the Highlanders franchise and keep the turnstiles at the stadium moving which reduces the financial burden on the ratepayers.

Get over it, instead of wasting your breath bagging the stadium embrace local enterprises trying to improve it. These bashers are the same people against gas exploration, hotels and anything that would make Dunedin prosper; I bet Union Organiser Shaun Scott is part of this crowd. Maybe we should listen to him and in his union mates, I mean it worked out for the Australian Automotive Industry right???

Simple question

Shouldn't it be the Highlanders (a commercial enterprise) sponsoring the Otago Univerity (an Educational Institution)?

Bad decision

Isn't sponsoring a continually losing team a bad look for the uni? Does it not show that the the uni backs losers and under proformers? And why sponsor a local team when they're wanting to attract out of town students who have their own affiliation with their local team? It would drive me away rather than attract me to the institution. This is a very bad decision from the Vice-chancellor.

Sorry to say it.....

'The university attracts students due to the high-quality teaching, research and supporting activities undertaken by high-quality staff, and should focus on this rather than associating itself with a sports team.'

Don't disagree with the above statement but what percentage of Otago's annual student intake make their decision to enrol based on the quality of 'teaching, research and supporting activities' provided by staff?

From my experience the vast majority of ex Otago students that you meet later in life don't recount stories of the quality of their degrees, but more stories about student life in Dunedin.

Sorry to say it but I suspect the majority of Otago Uni's growth over recent years has been fuelled not by the quality of its teaching and research but more the overall experience (mostly extra curricular) provided to the young impressionable students straight out of high school, a fair chunk of whom would fit straight into the Super 15 demographic. After all how much value has the University gained over the years from the single phrase "Scarfies on the terrace"

Not to say we didn't get a quality education but don't take your eye off what Otago's real point of difference is when it comes to attracting students to this town, and don't forgot what role these young impressionable masses play in allowing the university to undertake its research and post grad work.

Too P.C.

Sounds like more Politically correct madness. It didn't seem to be a problem before as both Speights and the Uni have been both affiliated with the Stadium for instance.


The last thing we need is to attract more beer swilling Rugger Buggers to this town. Please consider the existing and past student problems that have been caused in this town due to Uni culture. Changing the culture is not going to be assisted by the sector of the potential students that will be attracted here from rugby advertising.


If this is a replacement to those horrible singing advertisements about "your place in the world" then I welcome it. It can only be better.


This marketing move is two-faced and naive. After all the good work the University and its staff have achieved over alcohol consumption on campus during the past few years, this move is like a slap in the face and frankly embarrassing. This country and its young people have a major alcohol problem and lack of maturity around its consumption. For Prof. Hayne to think there is no link to rugby and the booze culture is pathetic. Just look at how many so-called 'professional' players that have to be disciplined for drinking in excess. Bad move!

a bad brand for the university

'Prof Hayne said in a statement that it, like all New Zealand universities, spent money on marketing, and sponsorship was ''recognised as a marketing tool'' for gaining brand exposure.'

The point, Harlene Hayne, is whom you are associated with to brand yourself and whether that is the image you want to project for the university.

A bad brand, given the faltering of the stadium and the poor performance of the Highlanders in the last five plus years, is surely a negative for the university.

Doesn't she get it?