2011 organisers fear big loss despite good start to sales

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The Independent Online

Despite strong interest in next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Martin Snedden, the chief executive of Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd, is still predicting a sizeable financial loss.

The tournament is being jointly organised by the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Government, which originally estimated a loss of $NZ30m (£14m). When expectations of ticket sales dropped, this estimate rose by $NZ9.3m as the only income RNZ 2011 receives is from the sale of tickets.

Now, with 85,000 match tickets sold as part of official travel packages and 50,000 fans from more than 100 countries pre-registering for venue and team pool packs, which went on sale globally yesterday, Snedden is optimistic that predicted losses will not rise any further.

"We are sitting at a projected loss of just over 39 million and ... the ticket campaign has given us a bit of comfort," Snedden said, speaking 500 days before the tournament opens.

"We know that selling 1.65 million tickets is going to be a huge challenge. But it's really motivating when you start off the whole campaign and you get such an instant positive response."

Fans in Wellington were able to pose yesterday with the Webb Ellis Cup , a trophy New Zealand have not won since 1987, as the promotion for the start of phase one of the ticketing process swung into top gear.

The application deadline for venue and pool packs is Friday 21 May; individual match tickets are expected to be on sale later this year. A ballot system will be used for tickets to the semi-finals and final, which will all be played at Auckland's revamped Eden Park.

"Making sure the ticketing process goes well is a key factor," said Snedden.

"I'm not expecting to sell all [the tickets] in 2010. I would love to have the vast majority sold by late this year, early next year, but [I suspect] we're going to be selling tickets right through the whole process and during the tournament itself."

Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's director of elite rugby, offered an optimistic forecast after an encouraging start to ticket sales in England.

The former England fly-half, who played in three World Cups, is stunned by the place the competition now occupies in the public consciousness compared to his last appearance in 1995.

He said: "The growth and expansion of Rugby World Cup in the last 20 years is just extraordinary. Each one has got bigger and bigger in terms of the number of people travelling, the event itself and the interest from the pool phase right the way through to the final."