Nelson enjoying rewards of hosting All Blacks
A report due later this month will outline just how significant the economic benefit of hosting an All Blacks test earlier this year was for the Nelson region.
Nelson created history by temporarily creating New Zealand’s newest test venue at Trafalgar Park for the September 8 Rugby Championship game between the All Blacks and Argentina, a sellout crowd enjoying a 46-24 win to the home side.
But the real winner was the region itself, with the Nelson Regional Development Agency forecasting a $9m financial gain from the game.
NRDA chief executive Mark Rawson will never forget the phone call he received a couple of days before Christmas in late 2017 from Tasman Rugby Union boss Tony Lewis, who wanted to float the possibility of Nelson bidding for an All Blacks test.
Having previously been involved in trying to get significant rugby matches a test match to Rotorua during his time as Destination Rotorua chief executive, Rawson already knew how challenging the environment was.
“(Tony) said, ‘I think we can have a lick at an All Blacks game’, and I thought, ‘yeah, really, well what do we have to lose by giving it a go?”
In early January, 2018, a business model was created by a small management team.
“New Zealand Rugby were very skeptical of us to start with, bearing in mind that we had a ground that only had about 7000 seats and half of those are temporary and you need 20,000 seats to make this work. Led by the Tasman Rugby Union, we pretty quickly managed to create a proposal that worked with the support of some private sector investors to complement the public sector investment.”
The impact of having the All Blacks in town for a week went well beyond an 80-minute game of rugby, Rawson said.
“The scale of this was something that Nelson had never seen before. It was awesome, although it did catch us a little bit by surprise. In the city centre, we created a whole fan trail and a set of events celebrating the All Blacks for a week, but on game day we estimate we had about 10,000 people in the city when the game kicked off. What had happened was that a whole lot of people came just to be part of the experience, it wasn’t just the people at the game, which worked really well for hospitality.
“I have to take my hat off to our community, who really did embrace this event. They helped to make it that much more special, and we certainly got that feedback from the All Blacks as well, both in terms of the players and the management, who had taken a risk on us by taking a game to the regions. We got some pretty positive feedback from them that it helped them achieve a lot of their own objectives in that space as well. Sky Sport commentator Tony Johnson said it was the best All Black test atmosphere since the 2011 World Cup final.”
Beyond the financial impact, which will be detailed in a report in coming weeks, Rawson can rattle off any number of non-financial benefits which have provided a significant boost for the Nelson region.
“We had a whole series of business events that were around the rugby, hosted by All Black sponsors, bringing key decision makers to Nelson for that weekend. That was something we didn’t expect, but it was awesome that it happened. It gave our business community exposure to people they would never have had exposure to,” Rawson said.
“We had dozens of media and tourism trade people from South America, for about a year around the game, which is not a market that a region of our size gets a lot of exposure to as its an emerging market. That was pretty valuable and we are still seeing it in our visitor spend. Being spring time, we have a seasonality issue, which this helped with, not to mention the television audience, which was exposure that we can’t buy.”
Rawson said he and others fielded many calls after the event from media wanting to talk about the experience around the game.
“For me, that’s the stuff you can’t buy and it’s the stuff which gets missed. That’s the long term value. We didn’t over-invest in any one piece of infrastructure just to create this opportunity, but we have created a legacy which we are still getting impact from.”