SANZAR bosses are not concerned about the half-empty stadiums during play-off matches last week and put it down to the 'World Cup factor'.
Greg Peters, the Sydney-based SANZAR CEO, said a number of factors would have impacted on crowd attendances in New Zealand this year.
Peters was speaking to rugby365.com in the wake of the low attendances in Nelson (where just 12,000 people watched the Crusaders beat the Sharks 36-8 last Saturday) and Auckland (16,000 attended the Blues' 26-13 play-off win over the Waratahs).
Both these stadiums are World Cup venues when the global showpiece is hosted in New Zealand later this year.
The Reds versus Blues (Brisbane) and Stormers against Crusaders (Cape Town) semifinals this coming Saturday are both expected to be played in front of sell-out crowds in the region of 50,000.
While television viewership is expected to be up across the board, and South Africa have produced sell-out crowds (in the region of 50,000 in Pretoria and Cape Town) in recent weeks, the Kiwis simply can't seem to get enough bums on seats.
In Australia only the table-topping Reds, who recently had a record 48,300 crowd at their game against the Crusaders, have showed a marked upward swing in attendance figures this year.
But Peters, a New Zealander who took up office in Sydney this year, is not in the least concerned.
"Look at New Zealand first of all," Peters told rugby365.com, adding: "You take what that country has faced ... with the earthquakes in Christchurch. They are still also coming out of an economic recession and the inclement weather across the competition - most notably in Hamilton, where most of their home games were played in torrential rain. Then again at Eden Park last Friday and again in Nelson on Saturday [there were major downpours before and during the game].
"Then there is the fact that a lot more of the smaller grounds were used in New Zealand throughout the competition.
"The Crusaders have played at Timaru, Napier and Nelson. The Hurricanes have played in Palmerston North, the Blues have play in Whangarei and the Highlanders have played in Invercargill.
"Also, there is a big tournament being held there in a couple of months," the SANZAR boss said, adding: "A lot of money have gone out of the [Super Rugby] system and towards the World Cup, which is to be expected.
"A lot of people are spending money on that tournament.
"The other thing that I think drives crowds generally, and no country is immune to this, is the quality of your team.
"So if the team is not doing that well on the field, crowd attendance becomes an issue as well. That has certainly been the case for a couple of teams in New Zealand and a couple of teams in Australia. Also, if you look at the Lions in Round One they had a huge crowd in Johannesburg, but as their on-field performances didn't quite hold up as they hoped it would those crowds unfortunately decreased over time ... that is what happens.
"We saw with the Reds in Brisbane, the crowd attendance turned up new records, which is connected to the strong performance of the team."
Peters admitted they would like the franchises to drive to have as many bums on seats as possible and see those numbers up.
However, given that this is the first year of the format of the competition, Peters felt some leeway should be made for a 'transition period'.
"Given the nature of the competition and the fact that it is a World Cup year, along with all those other factors I have mentioned, we would take a deep breath, build and see in 2011, after year two, where we are," Peters said.
"There is no doubt the local derbies are still successful in terms of local crowds and South Africa is having very strong crowd numbers, so we all need to work towards those sort of heights.
"However, you have to look at things like Nelson, where they have a population of just 100,000 people and if you have 10,000 people at a game, that is as many as 10 percent of your population. So, if you have a population of four-million in Cape Town, that is a big difference.
"The New Zealand franchises would like to see bigger crowds, no doubt about that.
"If we do look at this year in isolation, there are the different factors that impacted on that.
"I feel we can look forward, with some positivity, to 2012 and hopefully if a Southern Hemisphere country wins the World Cup it will heighten the interest in the game in this part of the world."
Peters declared himself happy with the growth in television viewership, particularly in Australia.
"We are happy with those [Australian TV numbers] being 28 percent up.
"In South Africa and New Zealand you have had eight weeks of over two-millions viewers [per round] and there was a record of 960,000 for the Stormers versus Bulls game.
"Generally we are comfortable with that position."
By Jan de Koning
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