Tuesday 16 January 2018

World Cup for Ireland, says man behind NZ's triumph

New Zealand's experience shows the financial rewards more than compensate for the cost of running the global event, writes Sarah Stack

MEMORIES: Paul O'Connell races clear of Australia’s Dan Vickerman in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
MEMORIES: Paul O'Connell races clear of Australia’s Dan Vickerman in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
MEMORIES: Paul O'Connell races clear of Australia’s Dan Vickerman in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE man who spearheaded New Zealand's successful Rugby World Cup has said the economic return justifies any capital spending ahead of the event.

Martin Snedden is backing Ireland's bid to host the lucrative tournament in 2023 and claims we are even better located – geographically, economically and time-zone wise – to make it a triumph.

Snedden was chief executive of Rugby NZ 2011, organiser of an event which attracted 133,000 international visitors and a global television audience of up to four billion people.

With each visitor spending an average of NZ$4000 (€2,100), boosting the economy by roughly NZ$532m, everyone was a winner – including the All Blacks – and the best of New Zealand was showcased around the world.

But Snedden, pictured, warns you can't just bank on fans having a great experience to ultimately lead to financial success. Investment in facilities is vital, he says.

"Our government and NZ Rugby went into this with their eyes open," said Snedden, a key speaker at the European Sport Tourism Summit in May in Limerick.

"They knew there would be a not insignificant cost to share between them. In both their eyes, it was an investment in the future of NZ and our rugby.

"The tangible economic returns justified that and the intangible returns added enormously to the post-event widespread feeling within NZ that the 'whole of country' effort had been very worthwhile.

"Ireland, more than any other rugby country, is best placed to capture that same widespread community pride and attachment to the event and the teams."

Snedden said New Zealand forked out just over NZ$300m to run the tournament and made a loss of NZ$31m (they forecast a NZ$32m loss when preparing the bid in 2005) which was shared 66 per cent by the NZ Government and 34 per cent by the NZ Rugby Union.

Former Irish rugby star Hugo MacNeill was recently appointed to chair a working group on Ireland's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

MacNeill, capped 37 times for Ireland, will work with representatives and agencies from North and South to examine the key issues which will backbone a potential bid to host the lucrative tournament.

Snedden, a former international cricket player, admits New Zealand's bidding team would have faced the same searching questions as Ireland, with some saying it was too small a country and that facilities were not up to standard.

"We proved the doubters wrong on all counts," he says. "New Zealand proved that it's not all about size. Small stadia became just as valuable as big in terms of capturing the spirit of the event and reflecting widespread regional and local community engagement.

"Most relevant to Ireland, we proved that the small guys could do this every bit as well as the big guys."

As well as lifting the World Cup, organisers also hit all the targets, generating NZ$271m in ticket sales.

"For them, the commercial success of RWC 2011 far exceeded expectations and, in their history of RWC commercial returns, ranked second, behind only RWC 2007 in France."

When it comes to sport and tourism, the 55-year-old Snedden knows what he's talking about.

The former cricket player represented the Blackcaps (NZ cricket team) between 1980 and 1990, playing 25 tests and 93 one-day internationals.

Between 2001 and 2007, the former lawyer headed New Zealand Cricket during a tumultuous period punctuated by issues relating to terrorism, politics and player contract negotiations and led the successful joint New Zealand Cricket/ Cricket Australia bid for the rights to host Cricket World Cup 2015.

After Rugby NZ, he was appointed chief executive of the NZ Tourism Industry Association and is director of both New Zealand Cricket and the International Cricket Council.

Hosting the RWC 2011 just seven months after the Christchurch earthquake, which killed 185 people and severely damaged the city, lifted the mood of a nation, Snedden said.

It also created construction jobs as works were carried out to upgrade rugby, transport and accommodation facilities, with around NZ$550m invested in stadia works. In Auckland an estimated NZ$512m extra money was spent on preparations for RWC, but 14,000 jobs were created and its economy grew by NZ$728m.

But Snedden maintains the event was a success because the whole country got engaged.

"We sold our bid on the back of a 'stadium of four million' strapline.

"Our people, regardless of whether or not they liked rugby, bought into the concept.

"It wasn't the All Blacks or my organising team who caused RWC 2011 to be so successful. It was the people all over NZ who had fun and brilliantly looked after our guests."

Up to 400 sports industry experts from local authorities, sports bodies, federations, clubs, and charity organisations will attend the inaugural European Sport Tourism Summit in Thomond Park on May 15. The event has been organised by W2 Consulting and Shannon Airport, with Independent Newspapers acting as the media partner.

Snedden's message to potential stakeholders is "embrace the opportunity".

"It is a magnificent chance for a united Ireland to shine," he adds.

"But understand clearly that the building of a successful bid requires courageous, conscientious, visionary people working together to create an overall 'authentically Irish' story which not only nails the vital operational detail but which, just as much, captures the heart."

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