Making right call on Eden Park will take courage
Eden Park, which brands itself New Zealand’s national stadium, is in very poor shape. The famous suburban ground urgently needs care and attention — but the trust which runs it doesn’t have the money to do the job.
Moreover, it is shackled by rules it must observe from making enough to keep the place running, let alone undertake the investments needed to secure its future.
To all intents and purposes, the park is on life support.
Under its trust deed, Eden Park is meant to be run for the benefit of rugby and cricket, as well as other codes and events, for the whole of the region. What’s more the park is meant to stand on its own financial feet.
Projections in the report by EY prepared for Auckland Council and which surfaced this week revealed just how far this objective is beyond the ability of the trust to achieve. The maintenance plan for the next decade is estimated to cost $62 million. The plan is unfunded.
The turf which has witnessed significant triumphs needs renewing. Its warranty expired seven years ago. Like a worn carpet, it is kept going with the efforts of ground staff.
The flood lights are unreliable. They failed before a day-night cricket game last year and could go out at any time. They need replacing at a cost of $5.6m — funds the trust does not have.
The big screens need upgrading but there is no money to pay the bill.
Revenue is falling. The golden goose in the shape of the All Blacks play at Eden Park just once this year instead of the usual two tests under an agreement with New Zealand Rugby. Tests are a vital injection into the trust’s cash flow. The patchy performance of the Auckland Blues over the last few seasons has hurt revenue as crowds have shrunk.
The Black Caps have only two big cricket games at the park this season, including the T20 against Sri Lanka last night. New Zealand Cricket appears to see its future better served at Western Springs. If the move comes to pass, Eden Park will lose a sporting pillar.
Financially, 2019 is a crunch year for the Eden Park Trust. A $40m ASB Bank loan matures this year. The trust may struggle to repay the interest, let alone the loan, which is guaranteed by Auckland Council, even though the council by law has no say in the way the ground is run.
Council planning rules however do impinge on park events. Its location in a sea of wooden villas and a feisty neighbourhood wary of noisy concerts means the big inner-city stadium will remain silent most nights.
So what solutions are there for Eden Park?
Auckland has sizeable stadiums on the North Shore, at Mt Smart and Western Springs.
When all the evidence is in, the conclusion may be that Eden Park has reached its use-by date.
Add in Eden Park and the city has four big grounds, all used sporadically and all reliant, in one way or another, on ratepayers to stay in business. This gives ratepayers a stake in the future of the grounds. Their voice needs to be heard, besides the input from sports bodies which use the stadiums and the groups which manage them.
Sooner or later Auckland will have to make tough calls about its stadiums, with the real prospect that one or more may need to go and that a new one is built. When all the evidence is in, the conclusion may be that Eden Park has reached its use-by date.
The decision will not be easy, but then again tough clashes at the park were never won without a struggle. The courage shown down the years on the Eden Park pitch will be needed to make the right call.