New Zealand has proved to be a standard-bearer on the world stage when it comes to dealing with COVID-19, with this status having also been attained for the stadium and arena industry by Eden Park.

The historic Auckland venue has not only staged a number of high-profile sporting fixtures in front of sell-out crowds, but has also been creative in its approach to utilising the stadium, both before and during COVID-19, and as New Zealand emerges from the worst of the global pandemic.

Speaking during a session entitled ‘Emerging Stronger’ at TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020, Eden Park CEO, Nick Sautner, discussed how New Zealand’s national stadium sought to approach the crisis and challenge traditional stadium utilisation by creating new revenue.

Initially, Sautner described how this meant a swift response. “For us it was important to act quickly,” he said during the presentation, which can be viewed in full below.

“We delivered a model that saw a 35% reduction in payroll. That was primarily through looking at roles and putting roles in hibernation. We’ve tried to minimise the amount of roles disestablished and I’m very proud that we were in a position where only three roles were required to be disestablished.”

New methods of operating needed to be established, Sautner explained: “We knew that once we came out of the other side, it was important we were prepared, and that was reflected in our sell-out Super Rugby Aotearoa games. This covered strategies around (seating) pods, mitigations and alignments around the government’s code and response.”

Eden Park is poised to be at the heart of a golden period for the New Zealand sports events industry which will see the country host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021, the Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2022 and co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with Australia.

With this in mind, Sautner said community engagement with “authentic storytelling”, both domestically and internationally, was crucial during lockdown to demonstrate Eden Park’s, and New Zealand’s, ability to survive and emerge stronger.

Sautner said: “(Event planning) was disrupted by COVID, but didn’t interrupt our need to deliver domestic and international content to ensure that people came back to the venue with confidence. This is a once in history legacy and we wanted to ensure our audience could see Auckland, New Zealand and Aotearoa is a leader in this space.”

Event innovation has also been key for Eden Park, especially so during the pandemic as the stadium has sought ways to better utilise its assets. Stadium Golf, a concept developed by Eden Park through a strategic partnership with TEG, ventured outside of New Zealand for the first time from December 4-13 with a G9 event at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

Sautner revealed: “We’re looking to implement more Stadium Golf and G9, not only in Australia but also into the UK. Working with venues who’ve really struggled through this period to generate new revenue streams and commercialise assets and idle capacity.”

Under the mantra of ‘by the way, sports and entertainment also takes place at this venue’, Eden Park’s work suites concept is now being utilised by over 16 companies that are using the stadium’s corporate suites as work environments.

Staydium Glamping, an innovative ‘staycation’ experience introduced by Eden Park, also proved highly popular with Sautner stating that over 200 bookings were received in the first 48 hours of the project launching.

Sautner also described how Eden Park has adapted during COVID-19, partnering with Samsung to install a 42m by 11m LED screen during the downturn in the event calendar. He said: “That’s been a gamechanger. It launched on the weekend of the first cricket fixtures back and for the fan experience it’s something unseen in New Zealand.”

Eden Park was the first stadium in New Zealand to implement COVID testing stations in its external car parks. The stadium was also repurposed as a storage facility during lockdown through approaching local tourism bodies. Eden Park stored over 5,000 Lime scooters, camper vans in car parks, and at one stage over 35 golf buggies.

“This implemented a different lens as to how we could keep our workforce engaged, knowing that coming out of the other side we’d need an engaged staff to deliver on outcomes,” said Sautner.

Meanwhile, from a community perspective Eden Park partnered with the Cookie Project, a social enterprise that employs Kiwis with disabilities, to make cookies at one of Eden Park’s kitchens on a daily basis.

Sautner added: “This again has used idle capacity at our stadium, generating goodwill not only for Eden Park but also new revenue streams for areas that were only used on limited occasions.

“Some of these initiatives have delivered new revenue streams, but also a legacy. One of the things that COVID has shown is that community will be central to the recovery.”

Attendees are able to watch sessions from all three days of TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020 for the next 30 days through the event platform

The Summit returns to Manchester – in person, in the real world – on June 22-23, 2021.

Main Image: Eden Park