Wellington Scoop

Planning a white elephant

by Lindsay Shelton
This week’s release of cheap seats ($99) for AC/DC at the Stadium is a reminder that there’s only a limited number of touring groups who are able to ask and obtain high prices for their shows.

And from the audience point of view, there aren’t enough people in Wellington to support an over-supply of such shows. There aren’t too many of us who are able or willing to pay such high prices, except for some special occasion.

Which is a reminder of the unreality that’s evident in the Wellington City Council’s dream of building a 10,000-seat concert arena in the hope that it would entice many more high-ticket-price performers to add us to their international itineraries.

I have written several times about why I don’t believe there are enough touring groups with the potential to justify such a project. And at last I’ve found someone, with more than forty years experience and knowledge of bringing touring shows to Wellington, who is also doubtful about it.

Wellington entrepreneur Stewart McPherson of the Stetson Group says that such a building could become a white elephant. (I wish I’d thought of that expression). He told a DomPost reporter why he believed that Wellington audiences would rarely fill a huge space:

“Is the market big enough? I would dispute it is.” Even casting the net out to the lower North Island could leave the stadium struggling for customers… Wellingtonians were sluggish at buying tickets compared with the rest of the country, he said. “I would love to think the Wellington market could sustain it, but the evidence is Wellington is not being, pro rata, as interested as other centres.” He pointed to a recent show by Slash, the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist, who got much better audiences in Hamilton than Wellington. A recent tour by Jethro Tull managed to sell out twice in a 2500-seat Auckland venue and twice in a 1200-seat Christchurch venue, he said. In Wellington, where the band played the 1500-seat St James Theatre, only a single show was needed.

In the same report, the newly arrived WREDA boss Chris Whelan made some irrelevant comparisons which showed his lack of experience in the local market.

… he had every confidence that Wellington would regularly fill an arena of 10,000 or more seats. He pointed to events such as the New Zealand Festival in 2014, which attracted more than 266,000 people, and the World of WearableArt show, which was attended by more than 53,000 people that same year. “Wellington, without question, has an appetite for an indoor arena,” Whelan said. “As well as enabling us to attract big touring artists, an indoor arena would help us further grow our family of distinctively Wellington events that suit the creative capital’s place in the entertainment and visitor market.”

The WoW event would be dead in the water if it tried to present its shows in a 10,000 seat space. And the NZ Festival would have little use for such a space, a fact which is evident to anyone who is familiar with their mainly theatre-based productions.

Instead of dreaming of white elephants, Wellington should be much more creative in using its great venues, instead of allowing them to stay closed most of the time. The St James Theatre and the Opera House are both beautiful auditoriums, which are shamefully under-used. Circa and Bats are proof of how such places should be alive and attracting audiences every night of the year.

Not forgetting the Town Hall (once it’s reopened) which is a magnificent place. And for the biggest numbers, the TSB Arena – it’s been booked to capacity for Leonard Cohen and for Lorde (5000 tickets sold). If they’d been in a space that was twice the size there would have been empty seats, and the experience would have been much less exciting.

And as for those $99 cheap seats. I must correct myself. You don’t get an AC/DC seat at the Stadium for $99. For that money, it’s standing room only.


  1. luke, 1. October 2015, 12:42

    Limited amount of money to be spent on entertainment, whether it’s going to the nix, the lions, oktoberfest, beervana, toast martinborough, races at trentham. People can’t afford everything. More events doesn’t grow the pie. It just spreads everything a little thinner.

  2. Phil C, 2. October 2015, 3:52

    Monorail, monorail! Every proper city has a 10,000 seat arena and a flash convention centre, don’tcha know?!

    Sigh, remember the good old days before the Town Clerk became a CEO and the council busied themselves with public transport, street lighting, power and gas supply and all that boring stuff?

  3. Dave Smith, 6. December 2015, 11:36

    Well said you guys!