Invercargill host deal terminated

Roger Clark.
Roger Clark.
Highlanders boss Roger Clark says Invercargill has not been ruled out as a future host of Super Rugby games, but the franchise wanted flexibility in staging games.

At an Invercargill City Council committee meeting yesterday, the council agreed to a staff recommendation - which was supported by the Highlanders - to end the agreement between the two bodies which mandated a game in the city every year.

The agreement had been hatched in 2016 and involved the Highlanders bringing a game to Invercargill every year for the next five years.

The Invercargill City Council, through its entity Invercargill Venues and Events Management Ltd, had agreed to underwrite the games to the tune of $500,000 if the games were not a financial success.

That money has not been needed, as the games have made enough money for the Highlanders to at least break even.

That agreement was due to finish next year after one final game in Invercargill, but that has now been terminated.

Highlanders chief executive Clark said the franchise had approached the council to end the agreement, as it did not want to be tied into any long term agreements.

''We are always committed to playing games in the region. There are other activities going on sometimes at Forsyth Barr Stadium and we do need to go somewhere else. But we want the flexibility to go to other areas. We have taken a game to Fiji,'' Clark said.

Clark said the agreement had worked very well for the past four years.

But both parties' circumstances have changed.

There had been changes to ICC personnel and a review of the city's strategic priorities.

Crowds in Invercargill have dropped off over the past couple of years. A game against the French Barbarians was played in Invercargill last year and only a small crowd attended.

This year, the Highlanders took on the Waratahs in June in Invercargill in the final game of the regular season. The side had a big win but it was in front of a crowd of 7200.

The smallest crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium last season was just under 12,000.

Add in costs of accommodating the whole team in Invercargill for a night, and the playing of the match just does not stack up.

Clark said it did not take a rocket scientist to work out that when the average crowd at the Highlanders for the past three years was between 13,000 and 17,000 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, a crowd of 7000 was not attractive.

The Highlanders had the highest average crowd of the five Super Rugby franchises in New Zealand.

As a side issue, Rugby Park Stadium had challenges around the ground, he said. The location of the home games would be revealed in the next few months once the draw was finalised.

At the meeting in Invercargill yesterday, councillors raised the issue of the condition of Rugby Park. Toxic mould had been found leading to offices being vacated at the ground.

Chief executive Clare Hadley said Clark had not raised any issues about the stadium with her but Rugby Park Stadium was a ''pending significant future liability for Invercargill''.

Cr Ian Pottinger was disappointed with the outcome as the council had supported the Highlanders when they needed some help and he expected them to stick to the original agreement.

The decision had to be rubber stamped at a council meeting next week.

- Additional reporting by Luisa Girao

Comments

Same thing happened with football last year too. Three years ago there were two 'ISPS Handa' national games played in Invercargill's Rugby Park. That stopped as it cost an extra $15 grand to host outside of Dunners. Sad.