Wellington struggles to fill early World Cup matches

WELLINGTON : Host city Wellington hopes the arrival of their Football Ferns will help stir more excitement for the Women’s World Cup this week, as early matches failed to fill the 33,132-capacity Sky Stadium.

A record crowd of 42,137 watched the New Zealand team claim their first-ever World Cup victory, a 1-0 win over Norway, at Eden Park on Thursday but the tournament has gotten off to a tepid start in the New Zealand capital.

Friday’s match between Spain and Costa Rica failed to reach 70 per cent of stadium capacity, with 22,966 in attendance, while Sunday’s affair between Sweden and South Africa was at 55 per cent capacity.

“I thought it’d be a bit more, like a bit more people dressed up,” said 43-year-old Sweden supporter Larna Tigerholm.

Co-host Australia drove the momentum for early ticket sales, as FIFA boasted over a million sold more than a month before the tournament had even begun.

But New Zealand residents were slower to pounce, prompting the global soccer governing body to offer 20,000 for free days ahead of kick-off.

“What (organisers) really need to do is to inform people of what is the uniqueness about being able to go along and see two teams play that are not the national team and may not even be particularly highly ranked,” said Kevin Argus, a senior lecturer from RMIT University. “A lot of storytelling needs to occur.”

There will be no back story needed, however, when the Ferns arrive for Tuesday’s showdown with the Philippines, as a win over the World Cup debutants would keep alive their dream of exiting the group stage.

That game is sold out along with Thursday’s match between four-times champions the United States and their 2019 final foes the Netherlands.

“We’re looking ahead to the games after that and how we can build on that momentum and really encourage New Zealanders and different communities (to watch),” said Warrick Dent, the general manager of WellingtonNZ for events and experiences.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and we’re pretty confident that New Zealanders will get in behind it as the tournament goes on.”

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