Rugby World Cup organisers have set their sights on selling out Eden Park for the opening match day of the tournament after announcing that ticket sales have already surpassed 30,000.
The Black Ferns will play Australia next Saturday at the 47,000-capacity venue as part of a triple-header to start the Rugby World Cup, and the size of the crowd will send records tumbling.
The crowd could double the current record for a match at a women’s Rugby World Cup – the 20,000 attendance for the 2014 final in France. It will also shatter the women’s sports match day record in New Zealand, which stands at 16,162 for a North Korea v USA under-17 soccer game in 2008.
Rugby World Cup tournament director Michelle Hooper said ticket sales represented a significant day for women’s rugby – and sport – in Aotearoa.
“We came out just over a year ago with a bold ambition to set a new world record for attendance at a women’s Rugby World Cup match on opening match day at Eden Park,” she said. “We put our faith in Kiwis to get behind this kaupapa and show up for women’s rugby.
“To have already surpassed that record with one week still to go is an incredible testament to our people and their support for this vision, and also the very special manaakitanga within our sporting community here in Aotearoa.
“We’re breaking new ground with this tournament and now want to see if we can secure another record first for New Zealand and for women’s rugby by filling Eden Park.
“We believe it is possible and are over-turning every rock in the process to bring this vision to life. A moment all New Zealanders can be proud of.”
The Black Ferns v Australia game will kick off at 7.15pm on Saturday, and will be preceded by the South Africa v France and Fiji v England games.
That strong menu of fixtures – as well as an appearance by pop star Rita Ora – appears to have been successful in luring fans to the event, bolstering hopes that women’s sport in Aotearoa is about to have a moment similar to the one recently experienced in the UK on the back of the success of the England women’s soccer team at the Euro 22 championship.
However, concerns have also been raised that New Zealand Rugby has missed a trick by only staging games Auckland and Whangārei.
“Undoubtedly, there’s a missed opportunity,” Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith said last week.
“We played Australia down in Christchurch [in August]that stand was full, and I think there were close to 5,000 people there, which is exceptional…But that’s beyond my pay grade.”
That decision was made to satisfy World Rugby guidelines and a break-even model for the tournament.
“We were confident we could promote the sport effectively but also have a cost model and a tournament budget that was also a key consideration,” NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said last week.
“Look, it’s a fair observation to say it would have been fantastic to play games at more centres.
“But, at the same time, I hope people can understand there were some limitations that didn’t allow us to do what we wanted.”
The Eden Park ticket sales will go some way to assuaging the concerns about the tournament’s lack of a national footprint, and also raises the tantalising prospect of the Black Ferns stars such as Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui getting to play in front of a home crowd that could exceed 40,000.
Such an outcome would guarantee an emotion-charged evening, and potentially change perceptions about what is commercially possible in the women’s game.