Dave Di Somma: Is the Christchurch stadium simply a scapegoat?

OPINION: Are the sub-standard temporary facilities in Christchurch the only reason people aren't going to the rugby?

The answer - no.

It's very convenient for all and sundry to blame AMI Stadium for poor ticket sales. From memory, there hasn't been a sell-out there since the Highlanders visited last year.

Since then, Super Rugby has been a hard sell for the Crusaders. This year's quarter-final against the Sharks was sparsely attended and even the semi-final against the Hurricanes only had about 15,000 through the turnstiles, still nearly 5000 off capacity.

And this comes at a time when we are constantly told that New Zealand derbies are where it's at - it's tribal, it's 'mate against mate' and it's what people want. 

There were All Blacks all over the park and yet it didn't resonate with local rugby people. On top of that, Christchurch turned on a very reasonable winter's night, about 12 degrees, with light winds and no rain. 

It was not a shocker with hail, like we have seen previously this year.

So what are the reasons?

1. Do spectators hate AMI Stadium that much? 

It's a ramshackle arena, basically a patch of grass surrounded by scaffolding, with seats on, but once you get seated, the view is not bad and you are relatively close to the action.

This week, even Crusaders veteran Matt Todd described it as a "not world-class" stadium.

People will bemoan the fact it is outside. This is a bit of nonsense in some ways, because Christchurch has never had anything different. 

Pre-earthquake Lancaster Park provided some shelter to fans, but it could still be a brutal place to watch sport.

And is Wellington's Westpac Stadium that much better? Eden Park is slightly different, because the weather is much milder.

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Forsyth Barr Stadium has obviously opened eyes to what spectator experiences can be like. Everyone sees what they have - and now they want it too. 

That's not unreasonable and that very clearly is part of Christchurch's future, but at $450 million, that would be a big, big undertaking for a city still recovering from 2011. 

2. Does the public just prefer watching rugby on TV?

This is a long-standing debate. TV is a great place to watch rugby, with commentary and replays, the comfort of familiar surroundings, a few drinks, and no worries about carparking or drink drinking getting home.

Figures indicate about 300,000 people watched the Crusaders semi against Hurricanes, about a quarter of the total TV audience at the time.

And then there are heaps of people flocking to pubs around the country, which would add to the figure.

3. Are we just over Super Rugby?

Many are over the competition in this format - it is a conveyor belt of matches, many of them essentially meaningless. 

Then again, the play-offs are 'business time', as they say, and interest picks up markedly.  

If the All Blacks were playing a test in Christchurch, it would sell out, no question. That's more about the pull of the All Blacks and also the novelty of the experience.  

4. Is it too expensive?

Maybe, maybe not. Tickets start at $49 for adults. This is not exorbitant and there are good 'take a kid to footy'packages.

As Todd pointed out, the Crusaders have had a string of home games of late and people have obviously been selective about which matches they want to see.

Then again, there's the cost of food at the venues (always expensive), plus beers, carparking and taxis to consider.  

5. Are the Crusaders just so dominant, everyone assumes they will win, so what is the point of turning up?

This is was probably the case for the Sharks quarter-final, but the Hurricanes semi had brilliant match-ups all over the park and squillions of All Blacks on show in a match that featured the champion teams from the previous two years. 

It should have been the best show in town, with people just amping to get along. 

The Lions final should be a sell-out or go very close, especially in a city that sees no international rugby, due to a mixture of small capacity and sub-standard conditions. 

The new stadium will be built in time, but it may be three, four or even five years away. 

The temporary stadium is a dog in the eyes of many, but as departing Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach says: "It is what we are stuck with."

Moaning about it or boycotting it may ultimately help push the cause for a new indoor replacement, but it doesn't do much to help the Crusaders in their bid for a ninth Super Rugby title.

And it certainly doesn't help the Crusaders business turn a profit.  

David Di Somma is Newshub's Christchurch-based sports reporter.

Join us at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Crusaders vs Lions Super Rugby final.

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