Masters Games most welcome

There was a surfeit of energetic athletes of mostly mid to mature years in Dunedin last week.

They were the 6000 competitors testing their mettle in the New Zealand Masters Games - the 11th Dunedin has hosted. Just why people from their 20s (yes, you can be a master at 20 - if you are a gymnast) to their 90s would want to enter a competitive multi-sport event is a point probably endless debated around some family dinner tables. But Dunedin should be glad they do.

It is estimated half the competitors attending the Dunedin games were from other parts of New Zealand or from overseas. They came, they competed and they spent. And, what's even better, many brought wallet-carrying spouses, partners and supporters with them.

The tills ring for Dunedin businesses whenever a cruise ship berths. Those passengers only visit for a few hours; Masters Games visitors can be here for a week or more. A report completed after the 2008 Dunedin games estimated the economic impact of that event on the city's economy at $5.1 million. The direct economic activity was estimated at almost $3 million, with another $1.3 million attributed to additional value - that magic mathematical formula economists use to calculate the trickle-down impact of direct spending. Participants spent an estimated average of $508, while supporters spent $135. As might be expected, the bulk of that went on accommodation, food, drinks, and shopping. No economic impact report has been completed since 2008, but there is no reason to think a follow-up report would be far different.

The Masters Games concept is a relative youngster in the chronology of major sporting events.

The first multi-sport games, the World Masters Games, was held in Canada in 1985 and attracted 8300 competitors. The winning formula was attractive - the athletes not only competed in their own sporting arena but against others in the same age group, thereby giving a sharper edge to the competitions.

As games began to be held in other countries, the word began to spread. People of a middle age and older with money in their pockets found a way to combine their sporting interests with sightseeing and socialising with others of like mind.

The inaugural New Zealand Masters Games was held in Whanganui in 1989. It was originally intended to be a biennial event, but with what proved to be sensible and far-reaching business acumen, the Dunedin City Council bought the rights to host the event each alternate year and has done so since 1992.

Dunedin City councillors and ratepayers should be satisfied with the "bang for the buck" the council gets for its involvement.

Its main commitment is paying the salary of a full-time manager in both the on and off-years, and agreeing to meet any budget shortfall.

Like other non-essential sporting, recreational and cultural events large and small, the Dunedin Masters Games has been hit by the economic recession of the late 2000s. Participation numbers have steadily declined since the halcyon days of the 2002 games which attracted 8120 competitors.

By 2008 the number of competitors was down to 7069, dropping to 6400 in 2010 and about 6000 this year.

The 2008 games made a loss of $150,000 which was met by the city council, while the 2010 games recorded a small surplus of $58,000. With no major naming right sponsor on board this year, it is anyone's guess what the financial result will be this time around.

Running a professional sporting organisation can be a financial nightmare. Just ask the Otago Rugby Football Union, or the Southern Steel netball franchise.

Sporting events which rely on local authority funding can be equally financially precarious.

Hamilton City ratepayers will long feel the financial fallout of the almost $39 million their council will have spent on staging V8 street car races by the time the final race is held this year. But all in all, the Dunedin City Council has done well for ratepayers by the Masters Games. Its moderate investment over 21 years has brought in a welcome regular visitor stream - and a likely economic impact of $50 million or more.


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