Comment: RWC Mouse Trap?

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Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US, asks: "What if you threw an enormous gala, a spectacular event, invited the world to attend and the anticipated guest list was never really fulfilled, too many empty tables, seats at the events themselves with no backsides in them, a reputation sullied instead of enhanced and no chance to repeat the process and make amends for that which did not come to fruition as planned?

One would have to attribute unsuccessful to that which was planned and cost some significant dollars. Not good and, yet, that might be where New Zealand is headed in the weeks that lie before us. The 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup is the seventh Rugby World Cup, a quadrennial international rugby union competition that was inaugurated in 1987. The International Rugby Board, IRB, chose New Zealand as the host country over Japan and South Africa back in 2005 at a meeting held in Dublin, Ireland. The others, admitted or not by the voters, have had, are having, their place on the world stage of sporting events and it was time to give the little mouse that roared a chance, whether they will admit that or not. Truth be known, other than the zeal the country has for the sport and the presence of the All Blacks, there is no claim to fame to justify the choice of a nation in the middle of nowhere, whose population is less than half that of New York City, had a devastating earthquake (sympathy does not play a great role here and is, more often not, totally ignored), and has everyone wondering if the largest sporting event ever held in this country, eclipsing in large measure all others that have preceded it, can be successful. . . 1987 Rugby World Cup, 1990 Commonwealth Games, 1992 Cricket World Cup, 2003 Americas Cup and 2005 British and Irish Lions tour. Predictions have been for 95, 000 visitors from overseas to travel to New Zealand for this event. And, at the same time, the worldwide financial crisis will come to an end, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy will be at the opening ceremonies while proof positive will be found that Santa Claus exists. The entire event has been positioned and postured as tourism ploy. Usually, with other countries, that is a by–product of the festivities. In the case of New Zealand, however, it is the product and the games are the bait. Seven weeks and it has begun with the final being played on Sunday, 23 October. Twenty teams with 12 automatically qualifying as a result of finishing in the top three in each pool in the 2007 tournament. Is this small nation in the middle of the ocean, neighbour to Australia, really ready? Do they have the sports infrastructure for such an international event, the scope of which is huge. Can you put 100lbs of manure into a 50lb bag? Are the facilities ready? Will the cost of the event be justified? What of the cost to taxpayers? How about all the tickets without anyone purchasing them? How to handle the hotels that have increased prices from three to 10 times the norm and claiming it is customary and justified? Instead of new facilities, older ones like Eden Park in Auckland have increased seating capacity. Will that do it? The earthquake has caused rescheduling and relocating of events. Is the populace going to like all those visitors that do come traipsing about their villages and towns? Just the tip of the iceberg in questions to be answered even as the teams are warming up as you read this. Some $190m was invested to upgrade Eden Park and develop it into a world class venue. Capacity was increased from 48, 000 to 60, 000. Improvements have been made to road and rail connections around the park. Another $35m has been invested in other stadia around the country. . . Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson and Whangarei. What remains will be good but will the eventual use justify the investment and expansion? That remains to be seen and when might we all know? Maybe never. Queens Wharf is one of New Zealands jewels in its crown so $20m went into improvements. If and when you ever get there put this on your list of must see destinations. Projections for visitors have gone from 60, 000 early on to 95, 000 as of a few weeks ago. Based upon what? Nothing at all!The RWC is being used to showcase New Zealand in terms of art, culture, entertainment, supposed business opportunities and it is even being referred to as a festival. There will be firework displays, parades, family concerts, wine and food festivals, special events in the wine regions and, by the way, an international rugby competition. Unlike unheard of projections, billions will not be watching the event on television and online. Has anyone checked the time zone that is totally unsuited to the European television market? They went overboard with that one and made no pretext about the real purpose – international profile to be raised, boost in economy and gains in trade and tourism. That makes Tourism New Zealand one of the key players in this game of public relations using sports as a springboard for awareness and publicity. It is more, much more than the games . . . it is the promise of a top quality New Zealand experience. The business and industry factions of the country want to make the most of the opportunity if, in fact, there is one. They will focus on, as noted, food and wine, fashion design, film making, IT and science capabilities and marine technologies, among many others. The New Zealand experience will be grand for those with cameras but they will take it home, not make plans to relocate. Trade and investment opportunities are for the global mercenaries and they already know what can, and cant be, done in and with New Zealanders. Are some new inductees on the horizon and appearing possibly due to attending the RWC? Of course. As many as are hoped for? Not from this viewpoint and I have taken a long, hard look at it. Trade partners is a term over–used and stated out of context. I am, for example, in X country and you are in New Zealand. You have a product, or products, that I can import, mark up sufficiently and profit from same. Possible business opportunity but a drop in the proverbial bucket of anticipated results and accomplishment of the event unfolding right now. Even the governments new website focuses more on the festival that the event has become than the games themselves. On the plus side, sales of All Blacks jerseys and memorabilia, other paraphernalia will be as crisp as has been imagined and the tills are already ringing nicely. The team has a record of under–performance in world events and it is redemption time. But, even with that, is the most fervent rugby fan rushing off to New Zealand to see games there or, honestly, make it a destination ahead of the usual of London, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Tokyo, New York, Prague, Rome, Sydney (their neighbour), St. Petersburg, Moscow, etc. ? New Zealand is stuck away at the end of the world with Australia their only, and closest, neighbour, also a very long way from some of the international rugby markets that they have been targeting. Find Antarctica and you find New Zealand. When was the last time you made a trip to that part of the world a must do within the next decade or so? An Emperor Penguin took a wrong turn recently in the Southern Ocean and eventually washed up on a beach near Wellington. Need I say much more? The All Blacks might be the best rugby team on the planet, winning 75% of their Test matches, but this event is destined to lose money. Let me put this in clearer perspective. This is a nation where sheep outnumber people eight to one, where men are men and the sheep are nervous. Also, it is country that was best known in recent years for the mountain vistas that provided the backdrop to Peter Jacksons Lord of the Rings movies. The weather outlook in the weeks ahead is, at best, 'unsettled'. How will that affect the fourth most watched sport in the world? Not sure but it is a factor. And, those 170, 000 tickets that were unsold last week? Not certain what happened to them. Neither New Zealanders nor expected visitors can afford to gobble them up. So, stay empty or toss them out there at any prices people will pay. The Aussies are not coming. Too much greed on the prowl. They can visit after it is all over. The tourism trade can be damaged instead of enhanced when rooms are going for 15 times the usual rates. . . not what they are saying, in defence, is the claimed standard practice. . . i. e. , translation: screw the public!!!Winning the coveted prizes of hosting international sporting events are not what they always appear to be and tripping over one's national ego can be a turn for the worse, not the better. About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767The views expressed in this article and throughout the MEI site are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Major Events International.

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