No questions over Stags’ funding

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    INVERCARGILL Licensing Trust chairman Alan Dennis says there is no in-depth review of Rugby Southland funding in the pipeline, despite yet another bleak season by the province’s flagship rugby team.

    Southland rugby is in a rut, with the Southland Stags losing 21 straight games at Mitre 10 Cup level.

    For the second season in a row, the Stags failed to win a game in 10 outings this season. That has led to some suggesting the second-tier Heartland competition might be a better fit for Southland.

    The Invercargill Licensing Trust (ILT) invests heavily in rugby, including the Stags’ Mitre 10 Cup campaigns.

    Rugby Southland received the largest combined annual grant from the ILT and ILT Foundation out of the approximately 500 organisations which the community funder supported.

    The organisation was allocated $400,000 from the ILT Foundation and $340,000 from the ILT in a combined $740,000 package.

    That $740,000 ILT allocation helped fund all areas of the sport in Southland, from grassroots up to the Southland Stags.

    Mr Dennis said while he could only speak of his personal opinion, and not that of the entire ILT board, he felt it was important Southland continued to line up in the New Zealand’s premier provincial rugby competition. He did not expect the ILT would waver from the current level of support anytime soon.

    “The trust has been known for its loyalty. The Steel (netball team) have struggled at times, so have the Sharks (basketball team), and we have kept supporting them,” Mr Dennis said.

    “Maybe sometime down the track if the mood of the public changed, I can’t say it wouldn’t be looked at. But at the moment I think it is important we have a team in the top competition.

    “I think people want to go along to Rugby Park and watch teams like Auckland play, rather than say King Country.”

    Mr Dennis attended some Stags trainings as an interested observer this season and also watched the on-field performances closely. He believed the group had worked hard to try and achieve better results and he could not fault the effort.

    He felt in many areas there had been improvement.

    Despite the ILT funding, which other unions do not have available, Rugby Southland’s commercial revenue stream was one of the smallest out of all 14 Mitre 10 Cup unions.

    In turn, that meant Southland had one of the smallest player budgets to work with, although it was able to be lifted from $750,000 to about $850,000 this year.

    Mr Dennis said the ILT was “maxed out” in terms of its own financial support of the Stags annually. He hoped other Southland-based commercial organisations could step in to help lift the Stags to a level playing field financially.

    The other side-effect of a struggling team was poor crowd numbers at the five home games this year, which lumped even more financial strain on Rugby Southland.

    Rugby Southland general manager Brian Hopley was still waiting for exact figures, but confirmed attendance was down this year.

    Just over 1000 people turned out for the final home game against Auckland last Wednesday night in what might well be the smallest crowd ever for a top-level provincial competition game in Invercargill.

    The best turnout this season was against Otago, but Hopley said that was still well down on what they would traditionally attract to a Donald Stuart Memorial Shield fixture.

    Hopley said crowd numbers right across the competition had dropped this year and he added Southland’s attendances were not the worst in comparison to other unions.

    “We are in a tough market.”

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