Can our cup runneth over?
By Katie McKone
“We are unlikely to ever have another opportunity that will unite us quite as much as a Rugby World Cup; the only other event would be if we went to war,” says Martin Snedden, the man leading the charge.
In less than three months time, all eyes of the rugby world will be on New Zealand as it hosts Rugby World Cup 2011. The event’s size means this will be no small feat and it goes without saying that it’s not something we want to mess up.
Yet if we play our cards right, the event has the potential to create a lasting legacy for New Zealand, claims Snedden, CEO for tournament organiser Rugby New Zealand 2011.
“If we do it well, I think it will be proof to ourselves of our ability to unite. It is a really challenging thing for a country to pull itself together and stay together around one particular moment in time, but rugby is the thing that unites us as a nation more than anything else I can think of.”
The September 9 kick-off is fast approaching and expectations are high. Snedden is leading from the front in the run up to D-Day, putting together an event that is set to put New Zealand on a podium higher than ever before.
When asked what compelled him to accept the job as Rugby World Cup boss back in 2006, Snedden simply says it was the lure of it. “It was the opportunity to be part of the biggest event New Zealand has ever won the rights to host. I just knew it was going to be huge.”
Snedden stepped into the role with solid credentials – spending six years as chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, which was preceded by a distinguished international cricketing career including 25 test matches and 93 ODI appearances for the Black Caps.
Now charged with the smooth running of what is set to be a pinnacle event in New Zealand’s history, Snedden admits his role is somewhat bigger than first anticipated.
“I knew it would be big just in terms of organising the rugby tournament, but then I probably underestimated how much it would reach into so many different areas. But then that has been the really exciting part of the job, in terms of how wide ranging and multifaceted the project actually is.”
The overriding challenge is meeting an ambitious target of 1.4 million tickets, fetching a total value of $269 million — the biggest ticket sales programme ever undertaken in New Zealand, 10 times the size of the British and Irish Lions Tour of 2005.
Up until the devastating Christchurch earthquake in February, just over 900,000 tickets with a value of $188 million had been sold. Yet the unavoidable relocation of eight matches from the city, and the refunding of some 150,000 tickets, has caused “a bit of extra work” Snedden says.
Yet he is adamant the original target can be met. “It is still very achievable. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are confident that it can be reached.”
Ticket sales to date have been encouraging, he says, despite the slower sales in smaller regions. Numbers are also expected to pick up before and during the event itself.
“I am confident the tournament will create some sort of Rugby World Cup fever and in the end people will very likely support all teams, as they will want to be part of this once in a lifetime experience that is happening for New Zealanders.”
At least 85,000 international visitors are expected to make their way down under for the World Cup.
Throughout the 45 days of the tournament there will also be intense broadcasting on New Zealand and the nation as a whole, with the country expecting to host more than 2000 media.
Moment in the sun
“We have the opportunity here to create a significant international profile and we need Kiwis to really latch onto that.”
This is New Zealand’s moment in the sun, and businesses in particular have a chance to showcase their products and innovation to a global audience. The immediate economic opportunities in this instance should not be overlooked, he adds.
The timing of the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland to coincide with the start of Rugby World Cup 2011 will also add to the number of high profile visitors that are expected to be in the country.
While rugby is at the heart of the event, it is as equally important that New Zealand views it as a chance for the nation to come together and reap the associated benefits, says Snedden. There is a great deal more at stake than who goes home with the prized Webb Ellis Cup.
A nationwide celebration, dubbed the REAL New Zealand Festival, plans to showcase the best of our arts, culture, food, wines and entertainment. It is the first time such an event has been held alongside a Rugby World Cup.
“There are 500 to 1000 events happening up and down the country, many of which are being created and delivered by people who have no interest [in rugby] whatsoever, but still want to be involved. So there is a role there for everyone if they want it.”
The intensity and hype surrounding the tournament is beginning to increase and we are now entering the home straight in terms of final preparations.
Snedden is not afraid to say the stress levels are high. “In the back of my mind is the fact that this is a live event, and in that dynamic anything can happen. The stress fluctuates quite a lot, but progress is going according to plan and the thing that helps the most is the large percentage of New Zealanders that are interested in the event and who feel quite positively about it.”
At the end of the day there are “just some things you can’t control,” he says, referring to the Christchurch earthquake.
“The earthquake has had an enormous impact on this event and has caused a lot of shock right across New Zealand. We have been pretty subdued as a nation, and we are remaining sensitive to the way people are feeling.
“I think however, that the Rugby World Cup will be useful for people as an opportunity to get back to life as normal and will have a strong unifying effect in that regard.”
He is also adamant that there will be no empty stadiums like those seen at the recent Cricket World Cup in India, where at times you could almost hear a pin drop for lack of spectators.
“At worst we will have reasonably sized crowds, most games will have large crowds and then we will have complete sell outs at some matches.”
The success of this event is relying enormously on the general goodwill of New Zealanders, Snedden says. “In the past, the All Blacks have been participants in the Rugby World Cup in other countries, but quite a different mindset is needed when you are the host country.
“The way the international community judges the success of this event has nothing to do with the All Blacks, but in the way they are welcomed, looked after and are given a good time. That is the only criteria that we are using, and we really need to extend the welcome mat and ensure that people are in a good mood.”
The opening weekend in particular is “critically important”, in terms of setting a precedent for the remainder of the tournament.
“If on Monday morning after that first weekend we have a sense that those games have gone well, that the opening ceremony at Eden Park has gone well, then the tournament will kick in from there.”
A number of other key ingredients will also contribute to the smooth running of the event, he adds, not to mention a “bit of luck”.
“The rugby on the field has to be of good quality, and the infrastructure, transport and accommodation all have to work well.
“I think the atmosphere around the event is also really important — if it is exciting and positive then that feeling snowballs and success breeds success.”
Whilst Rugby World Cup 2011 lasts for only six weeks, the post-event benefits for New Zealand will continue well after the tourists have gone home and the festivities have ended.
Potential business opportunities, partnerships and the lasting economic value are elements that should not be taken for granted. Our country is being presented with a chance to build its brand on the international stage.
The tournament is also being used as a catalyst to upgrade facilities and infrastructure across the country. For example investments in rail to help streamline the transportation of spectators in Auckland and the $256 million upgrade of Eden Park — all of which will attract new events and opportunities in the future.
Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said in January Rugby World Cup 2011 could add around $700 million to the New Zealand economy, contributing approximately a third of a percentage point to GDP.
“If we succeed,” says Snedden, “then internally New Zealanders get confidence in their ability to handle events, and externally we gain international confidence.
“Look at Australia after they hosted the Sydney Olympics — there was a lot of people who doubted their ability to pull it off, but they did it and then started to attract many more opportunities on the back of that. I think we will see the same thing happen here.”
New Zealand has already been signed up to co-host the next ICC Cricket World Cup with Australia in 2015 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup that same year.
Yet it is the intangible benefits that are perhaps the most pertinent. “If this event is successful it will prove to ourselves our ability to do certain things, which will be the over-riding legacy.
“If we are able to do that then we will start to understand that there are other ways to do the same thing, and new opportunities will arise and become possible.”