WELLINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) - Getting fans through the gates to watch the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition is a step in the right direction, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said on Monday, but it is “no silver bullet” for the governing body’s financial struggles.
New Zealand’s government lifted virtually all coronavirus restrictions on Monday, giving fans the green light to return to stadiums in Dunedin and Auckland this weekend for the first round of matches.
But with NZR forecasting a 70% decline in revenue this year due to the novel coronavirus shutdown there is a long way to go before it gets back on a firm financial footing, says their head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum.
“For us at NZR it’s no silver bullet,” Lendrum told reporters on a conference call.
“It doesn’t take away from the hard and distressing times that we face as a business and what our people are facing.
“But it will clearly help. And is a step in the right direction.”
The 10-week domestic competition was organised after the wider Super Rugby tournament, which also involves teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Lendrum added that New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams relied heavily on ticket revenue and that they had already been cutting prices to try to attract more people to games.
NZR has changed the kickoff times for both games, with Saturday’s match between the Otago Highlanders and Waikato Chiefs now two hours later at 7:05 p.m. (0705 GMT) and Sunday’s game between the Auckland Blues and Wellington Hurricanes at 3:35 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.
Lendrum said the schedule was altered to allow people to take part in community sport and then attend a match, not to make the games more attractive to broadcasters.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford