Rugby World Cup means big business for N.Z. host city

Source: David Pate, thechronicleherald.ca

Friday, 23rd Sept, 2011

NAPIER, New Zealand — The Rugby World Cup still has a month to run but it’s already clear who the big winners are, and none of them have played a single game.

New Zealand wants this tournament not just to be a sporting success. It wants the 100,000 visiting fans to boost the economy.

That is why every business, hotel, restaurant and store is advertising the tournament.

The city of Napier, where Team Canada is based for two games, has turned part of the downtown into a Canadian Quarter. Shops are advertising a “We’ve Gone Loonie” promotion to encourage Canadian fans to spend.

But despite the hopes of the shop owners, most of the money being spent in this country is pouring into pubs.

“We’re getting Canadian fans looking around,” said the owner of a Napier clothing store.

“They’re very nice, but they’re not buying much. It’s been disappointing.”

There’s no disappointment at one of the city’s Irish bars. The Rose became a Canadian haven before, during and after the match with France. On game day, it ran out of Guinness.

And the crowds in the Rose are typical of what’s happening right across this country.

Rugby fans are notorious for being big drinkers. And Irish bars are magnets for big drinkers and sports fans. It’s a match made in rugby heaven.

There are 14 Irish bars in downtown Auckland. On game days, they are packed from morning until closing, which, in bars with 24-7 licences, is never.

After Ireland’s upset victory over Australia, crowds of green-jerseyed fans could be seen shuffling home at 7 a.m.

The popular Father Ted’s bar was so packed that orders and drinks had to be passed over the heads of the crowds blocking passage to the bar.

And the crowds keep coming, no matter how busy the bars get or how long they have to wait for a drink. One fan pushed out onto the sidewalk by the sheer force of numbers said he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Irish emigrant Sean Quinn had impulsively flown in from Australia without a match ticket or even a place to stay.

“I’ll find someone I know here,” he said, looking through the throng of supporters. “They’ll give me a sofa to sleep on.”

Eventually, the crowd of pint drinkers overflowed the pub’s sidewalk patio to the point where the police arrived.

The fans were loud, but happy, and eventually the police decided there was nothing to be gained by trying to break up a crowd that obviously wasn’t going anywhere of its own accord. All that would have achieved was a loss in sales.

And those bar sales are the one bright spot for New Zealand businesses. The manager of one Irish bar said that in just one Saturday shift, the till under her control took in $38,000.

“And that was just cash; it doesn’t count card sales,” she said. “Everyone is working double shifts to keep up.”

That good news is concentrated in Auckland, where fans are packing sports bars to watch any game, no matter where it is being played. In smaller centres, it’s a different — and sadder — story.

The northern city of Whangarei hosted Canada’s dramatic victory over Tonga. That created a party atmosphere that lasted until the city’s second, and final, game in its small stadium.

When Japan and Tonga clashed this week in Whangarei, the city bars were buzzing. But the next day, with the city’s World Cup contribution at an end and the fans and teams departing, bars were empty and the evening’s televised game from Auckland played on screens watched by just a few local fans wondering whether the work and effort to encourage visitors to visit and spend had all been worth it.

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