27 Jan 2017

Wellington Sevens: Dead or alive?

9:19 am on 27 January 2017

The Wellington Sevens kick off this weekend, but is the iconic event on its death bed? Or can it re-invent itself in time to save its life?

Big baby day out at the Sevens

Big baby day out at the Sevens Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Ticket sales have so far been slow to say the least, continuing the trend of the last few years.

So has the party been pooped? Is the iconic event in its death throes? Or is there life in the old girl yet?

When rugby reporter Joe Porter asked the punters, it became clear that they at least think the Wellington Sevens are not what they once were.

"It was just a big party, everyone was into it, everyone was there for the same reason, just to enjoy themselves."

Dean is a Wellingtonian and long time Sevens supporter, who has not missed a tournament in 14 years.

He has not bought a ticket for this weekend, he said over officiousness spoilt his thirst for the spectacle.

"Last year I noticed you could only buy one drink at a time. There was two of us we're both middle aged adults trying to buy a drink each for two people and you couldn't do it. You had to buy one at a time go away and come back and buy another one. That's just difficult, that's just ridiculous."

Event organisers were essentially forced into a re-brand by the police and liquor licensors who were sick of the drunken fallout.

The New Zealand Sevens veteran DJ Forbes has played at the Wellington Sevens for a decade and conceded the tournament's decreasing popularity has diminished the team's home side advantage.

DJ Forbes scored the winning try against Kenya.

DJ Forbes in action. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

All Blacks Sevens stand-in skipper DJ Forbes walks off dejectedly after losing to Argentina during the 2015 Cape Town Sevens at Cape Town Stadium, South Africa on 13 December 2015 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

DJ Forbes has played in Wellington many, many times. Photo: Photosport

"It's obviously disappointing, but I speak on behalf of the boys that when you play for your country and wearing the black jersey you're pretty proud to represent it in front of a man and his dog. We'll still go out there and do our best (regardless of crowd size) and hope to put on a good show, but yeah it is disappointing."

The tournament suffered with ticket sales and crowd numbers steadily dwindling, though some see a ray of hope for the Sevens.

Hospitality New Zealand's Dylan Firth believes the event is slowly finding its feet following the post party overhaul.

"Where it is at the moment it's probably tracking upwards from its lowest point so we are seeing some improvements. They've made a lot of changes to their model, their entertainment, their food and their beverage, unfortunately they may have been made a few years after they were required."

Seven fan posing as Billy T.

Seven fan posing as Billy T. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Firth thinks it would be foolish to try and re-instate the all-out party atmosphere that made the event famous.

"I think that ship's sailed in terms of what that style of event was. It's like any business, sometimes you need to re-invent yourself and move forward. A lot of good restaurants and lot of good bars do a renovation every five or 10 years and have to re-invent themselves to meet the new demand for the market."

All Black Sevens victory Wellington 2016.

All Black Sevens victory Wellington 2016. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Wellington Tourism's Warrick Dent said they were happy with the current marketing approach though he conceded the economic benefits of hosting the event had decreased dramatically.

"If you go back 10 years it was bringing in a lot of visitors to the city and they were here for two or three days. The number of visitors has decreased, it has had an impact with the decrease in numbers but there are other benefits that we enjoy as far as broadcasting exposure and other benefits around that."

Dent said they wanted the tournament to stay in the capital beyond the current contract which ends in 2019, though he would not say whether they would be willing to pump more money into the event to keep it.