Clearly the rationale is financially based’


Readers will find it difficult to understand why the Highlanders will not play a game in Queenstown in 2009 while at the same time they will be taking a home game to a venue outside the franchise boundary.

Clearly the rationale behind the scheduled fixture against the Bulls in Palmerston North on March 27 is financially based.

You have to appreciate that the Highlanders is a business and needs to make a profit or at a bare minimum break even each year. It is for these reasons under my stewardship we brought Super Rugby to Queenstown during 2006 and 2007.

Through the support of local Queenstown businesses such as Trojan Holdings, we were able to maximise the financial return and help meet the additional costs involved in bringing the team across from Dunedin.

In 2007 the revenue generated from the game in Queenstown against the Chiefs was the highest for any game that season and ensured the franchise had a healthy financial return that year.

The decision not to play in Queenstown in 2009 has to some extent been masked by the non-allocation of a daytime playing slot over Easter.

I suspect had the 2008 game been as financially successful as it was in 2007, more would have been done to ensure a daytime slot was forthcoming to accommodate Queenstown for Easter 2009.

It is interesting to note a 2.30pm game has been granted for the Hurricanes v Cheetahs fixture in Palmerston North on March 7.

Many people worked tirelessly to bring Super Rugby to Queenstown and traction had been gained over successive years. To lose that traction now is bitterly disappointing and I am left wondering if some of those involved in hosting the event locally understand the implications of losing such an important event.

The opportunity of beaming TV images of a picturesque Queenstown to millions around the world is something worth holding on to, surely.

What needs to happen now is for Queens­­town to pitch for hosting the Highlanders in 2010 and beyond by ensuring that the value proposition offered is so compelling it cannot be refused.

I strongly suggest that is exactly what Palmer­­­ston North and indeed Invercargill have done.

Russell Gray was chief executive of the Otago Rugby Football Union for four years until 2007. He is CEO of Queenstown-based St George Trust & Good Group