On Wednesday night the Mezzanine floor was opened at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. John Key was there, Celia Wade-Brown was there; and all of this on a day when there was the official wander-around with the Windsors.
So clearly, this is in regal company. But what is it about, and what does it mean?
The Stadium, or Caketin as referred to on Radio Sport, is 15 years old. When it opened, it was seen as the next generation of sporting stadiums in New Zealand; situated at the right spot, easily accessible by foot, rail or car, and a shape that could be used by all sports. It was built, and they came.
As recently as 2010 it continued to surpass all expectations. That year its annual expected patronage when forecast on construction had already been met at the end of March. That was on the back of:
- a T20 match against Australia (that form of the game had not been invented on 2000)
- the Phoenix selling out play-off games in the A-league (imagine saying that in 2000)
- the Sevens weekend (there was no such thing in 2000)
- a home and garden weekend (likewise)
- a couple of AC/DC concerts (that one could have been predicted).
- Add in a few Hurricanes matches in the pre-Hammett era and this was the heart and soul of Wellington.
But since then attending live sport has dropped away alarmingly. This is not a specifically Wellington, or even New Zealand problem. It is a global issue, and one those who run stadiums and sporting events around the globe are trying to resolve.
The mezzanine floor at the Westpac Stadium is the first step at arresting the slide and, as CEO Shane Harmon said, reinforces that the main people involved in any facility are the people who actually pay to go along and watch. Without them there is nothing.
Now the patrons have the option of not sitting in a plastic yellow seat for the duration of the event. In 2014 and beyond the paying customer wants more than the game, the whole game, and nothing but the game.
For a start, the food on offer is a massive leap forward from traditional fare. There are dishes from Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Italy and more, because that is what Wellingtonians are used to. There are massive flat screens at either end of the facility, and smaller ones behind the bar. There are couches and cubby-holes like other bars. WiFi is available, and there are even a couple of booths where you can charge your phone.
All your First World Issues dealt with on one floor.
In fact, technology was a key feature of the evening. Google glasses were being passed around and trialled, and there was a demonstration of a soon to be released Stadium App that will give you replays on demand, match stats and more. This will be a New Zealand first.
But when you put your phone and glasses down and turn around you get a panoramic view of the harbour. Previously being inside the stadium could be a little disorientating. Being circular, symmetric and enclosed meant you did not always know where you were. Now that has changed, and the tin facing the harbour has come down, to be replaced by massive windows; linking the stadium to the adjacent harbour.
So, like a rather large lick of paint, the stadium just got a warmer, more modern feel. As Mayor Celia Wade-Brown pointed out we are currently in a four week period where it hosts NRL, A League, Super Rugby and AFL fixtures. No other ground in Australasia will do that this year.
And in 2015; the year of the Cricket and FIFA Under 20 World Cups, it will again be the only ground to host both.
And cricket, in particular, will benefit by having a comfortable place to visit to mix it up.
The Mezzanine floor opens to the general public tonight. On a day where it’s not easy to get a decent bite and a drink. Check it out; there’s a rugby match attached too.