Bledisloe 'Fan Day' aims to boost sales
In a bold bid to boost slow ticket sales, the three unions behind the DHL Hong Kong 2010 Bledisloe Cup have taken the unprecedented step of arranging a 'Fan Day', on which ticket holders can rub shoulders with the All Blacks and the Wallabies.
With only about half the tickets at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium sold so far for the October 30 showdown - tickets went on sale two months ago - the Australian and New Zealand rugby unions have decided to allow access to their players.
Fans will get the chance to be up close and personal with All Blacks-superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, or Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom and new sensation Quade Cooper, at the So Kon Po pitch next to the stadium on October 24.
'It will be a unique opportunity for the fans to meet the players,' Trevor Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, said yesterday. 'They can get their autographs and rub shoulders with the stars.'
The effort taken by the two overseas unions to help make this happen - the All Blacks only arrive at 7am on the morning of Fan Day - suggests concern among organisers over sluggish ticket sales.
'This is an unprecedented move. Yes, back home, the All Blacks and the Wallabies meet their own fans, but this is unique in that it will be the first time that both teams are out there together,' said an official in the organising committee.
Fan Day will start at 11am and last two hours. Autograph hunters will have designated areas on the So Kon Po pitch where groups of players will be available. Children will be able to interact even more closely in special training sessions by the players.
The public will have to bring their tickets for the game to enter the ground on Fan Day. Those who don't have a ticket will be able to buy one at the Hong Kong Stadium box office.
Gregory said ticket sales were 'getting towards half [the capacity] now', but remained upbeat that the pace would pick up.
'We have three weeks left and this is a long time to sell tickets,' Gregory said. 'There has been a bit of a spurt in the last few weeks, but I think a lot of people will wait until the last minute before buying.'
John O'Neill, Australian Rugby Union managing director and chief executive, who had stopped over on his way home from an IRB meeting in Dublin, urged the Hong Kong public to come and watch the top-two teams in world rugby battle it out.
'This is a serious test match. With the World Cup happening next year, every game we play towards the end of this year is very important to both teams,' O'Neill said. 'We certainly want to see a full house in Hong Kong, not just for our own financial interests but because it's a game which deserves a full house.'
Organisers said that there would be no live coverage of the game in Hong Kong.
O'Neill said: 'The Bledisloe Cup is similar to bringing Spain and Holland here for a football play-off. I genuinely believe it could be the preview of next year's World Cup final.'
The Wallabies have lost all three outings against the All Blacks this year, with McCaw's men stretching their winning streak over their Trans-Tasman neighbours to 10.
O'Neill has already discounted the idea of a fourth Bledisloe Cup game in the future, but it doesn't necessarily mean this will be the final time Hong Kong will get the chance to see these teams in action.
O'Neill said: 'Next year, because of the World Cup, we will just play a home and away Bledisloe Cup series. In 2012, we expect Argentina to join an expanded Tri Nations, which will also be home and away.
'But Australia and New Zealand have got an agreement in principle for a third Bledisloe Cup game.
'We won't be playing a fourth Bledisloe Cup in the future, but we will be playing a third and take turns in hosting it. This leaves the door open for the game to be played in an offshore location.'
Australia have lost all three outings this year against New Zealand, who have stretched their winning streak to: 10