Wellington - The head of New Zealand's Rugby World Cup organizing committee said Wednesday the relocation of matches from earthquake-stricken Christchurch has affected ticket sales.
Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said the task of relocating matches after the February 22 earthquake which killed 185 people was the biggest challenge tournament organizers had faced in the six years since the Cup was awarded to New Zealand.
Seven matches, including two quarter-finals, had to be moved from Christchurch because of the damage to the city's stadium, hotels and infrastructure caused by the magnitude 6.3 quake.
Organizers were forced to refund about 150 000 tickets already sold for Christchurch matches at a cost of around $20 million, but Snedden says he remains confident of meeting targets and minimizing the tournament's cost to taxpayers.
Snedden said re-sold tickets had so far only been offered to those who had originally purchased tickets to Christchurch games. Sales had been relatively slow, but he expected a surge when tickets were made available to all buyers next month.
In an interview with National Radio on Wednesday, Snedden said he was confident organizers would earn the budgeted revenue from ticket sales of 268 million New Zealand dollars ($220 million), which would leave taxpayers and the New Zealand Rugby Union with a shared deficit of NZ$39 million ($32 million).
The International Rugby Board takes all World Cup revenues except those from ticket sales which are left to local organizers to meet costs of staging the tournament.
Snedden was speaking exactly 100 days from the start of the World Cup which opens with a match between New Zealand and Tonga on September 9.
"We had really high hopes for what Christchurch would do for the event in a rugby sense and it was really, really sad to have to take it away from there," Snedden said.
"So from an operational sense that was a big challenge and that flows on to the tickets. We have to give back 150 000 sales and 20 million bucks, and start again from zero on each of those matches."
Snedden dismissed reports that ticket sales generally had been "sluggish." The global recession, a strong New Zealand dollar and the high cost of travel and accommodation packages is thought to have impacted sales, but he said he was happy with progress so far.
"We would never have got to 900 000 ticket sales if there wasn't a high level of excitement around Rugby World Cup," he said.