2012 has seen the Highlanders move across Dunedin from the iconic Carisbrook to the brand new Forsyth Barr Stadium. The decision to build the stadium was certainly a very controversial one and there are many in the city who still oppose the idea of having to pay for it. Certainly it doesn’t have the same mana that Carisbrook carried as being one of the most historic stadiums in the world, but it has provided the city with a new lease of life and is attracting big events. I went along to see for myself how the Highlanders would fit in to their new home, with a special interest to see if it would be the top class viewing experience as promised, or whether it was a waste of money as the “Stop the Stadium” group maintained.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There isn't a great range to choose from here and what there is costs you an arm and a leg, although this shouldn't be a surprise as it's the same everywhere these days. Hot chips and hot dogs will cost you $5-$6 while a slice of pizza will cost $8 as will a burger. Beer ranges from $6.50-$9 depending on what you want and how much. The quality of the food though is good, as all food is prepared in the stadium's onsite kitchens.
You are able to take non-commercial food into the ground such as homemade foods or anything without a brand on it, so that may be a better option if you want a snack during the game but are looking to save some money.
The atmosphere in this stadium is simply electric. To those long time Highlanders supporters, it is very much reminiscent of the atmosphere at Carisbrook in the early days of Super 12. Being an indoor stadium, the noise echoes meaning every cheer or boo from the crowd can be heard twice as loudly. Perhaps the fact that the referee and players were struggling to communicate with each other due to the noise illustrates just how loud it gets in there. Of course this makes for a great atmosphere and gives everyone in the stadium a lift.
If you are looking for more of a party atmosphere whilst watching the game you want to make sure you are in 'The Zoo'. This is a section made primarily for students, or scarfies as they are known to Dunedinites, and comprises the entire West Stand behind the goal posts. There is plenty of music playing down on this end of the ground and the crowd will sing and dance in a way similar to the Wellington Sevens. However, if you are intent on following the game closely and analysing the play, you would be better to find a seat in either the North or South Stand, where the focus remains solely on the rugby.
You couldn't want a better neighbourhood than what Dunedin has to offer. There are plenty of friendly people always around, many of whom are very passionate about their sport, with rugby ruling supreme.
The stadium itself is located less than a kilometre east of the University of Otago campus, meaning it is right in the heart of 'Scarfieville'. This is the area of town where the majority of the town's 20,000 students live, with flats lining almost every street in the North Dunedin area. Otago students are famous for their passionate support of the Highlanders and Otago rugby teams, and while this has dropped off in recent years, the team's recent success has seen them return in huge numbers to bring back a rugby atmosphere to the surrounding area. They are also famous for knowing how to have a good time, so take the opportunity to get amongst the scarfie lifestyle if you're into that sort of thing. Town is a short walk away if you cut through the University Campus, with plenty of bars and clubs if you want to celebrate a win after the game.
They say no one does rugby like Dunedin. That was probably true ten years ago and in those days this category would have gotten five stars without a shadow of a doubt. Over the past decade there has been an enormous drop off as the Highlanders reputation dwindled. But with a new stadium and a winning team, the crowds have come back and have proven that the fans in the south are just as passionate about their rugby as ever, from the students to the lifetime followers.
Highlanders crowds have never been hostile, but do provide some good natured banter from the sidelines and get behind their team 100%. Historically Dunedin has been one of the toughest places in the world for an away team to come and play, shown by the incredible winning percentage of home teams, much of which has been put down to the influence the fans have. This doesn't look like it will stop either as the environment created by the fans in Forsyth Barr Stadium has proven to be equal to anything ever created in the city before. Indeed, the players have been quoted as saying playing with the Dunedin crowd behind them is the equivalent of having an extra two men on their side.
Access is very good. There are plenty of gates and even with a sold out stadium it took less than a minute to get inside the ground once in the queue. Lines at the Food and Drink shops tend to be lengthy, as is to be expected anywhere, while the bathrooms tend to be busy at halftime as is always the case.
If you are staying in town you will be within a 15-20 minute walk of the stadium so there is little need to look for transport to get there. Although if you are a local, or are staying outside the main city and are planning to drive to the game, parking can be hard to come by. Your best bet is to head south from the stadium, take a left at the roundabout 500 metres down the road and follow the streets into the industrial area of town. There is plenty of parking and all for free. There is a 15 minute walk from here, but in the long run will save time as getting out along the roads near the stadium is a fairly slow process.
There are also plenty of buses shuttling to and from town as well as taxis to take you home, both of which can be found right outside the stadium.
The return on investment at this stadium is fantastic, as the stadium offers very high quality for a very affordable price. Tickets range from $15 in the Zoo, to $37.50 for premium seats in the North and South Stands. These are very good prices compared to elsewhere in the world, and considering the Super 15 offers arguably the highest quality of rugby outside of the international scene, there's little to complain about. Various family passes can also be bought for cheap prices and there are a range of season ticket packages available all of which offer savings on buying individual match tickets.
It is an amazing experience and worth every penny.
There's so much good about this stadium that hasn't fallen into any of the above categories meaning there is still plenty to talk about in the extras section.
The roof that encloses the entire ground is a great feature. Dunedin winters are typically cold and wet, but with an indoor stadium the rain no longer becomes a problem once inside and very little wind can be felt meaning a great degree of warmth is maintained.
This also makes for better playing conditions, as the ball remains dry making for better handling and the lack of wind evens up the game as the kickers no longer have the advantage or disadvantage of which way the wind is blowing. In general, it makes for a higher quality game which can only be a good thing for everyone involved.
The height and steepness of the North and South Stand's is another great feature. Once up high in either of these stands it is possible to look down on the entire ground as if you were watching on television, but with the freedom to watch who and what you want to watch rather than just what the camera shows you. The steepness means that you are so close to the ground that it is possible to get a great view of what is happening in the contact situations and even possible to see right into the breakdown to see what is going on. If you are a rugby analyst and love the technical side of the game, this is possibly the best feature of all.
Lower down the view isn't quite as good, but as the seats are literally field-side the action is very close and it is a good opportunity to appreciate the physicality of the game and the athleticism of the players.
The stadium in general is very clean and has a new feel to it. While it lacks the history of its cross-town counterpart, it will no doubt have its fair share of memorable matches in the coming years and will become synonymous with Dunedin just as Carisbrook has done for over 100 years.
I'm so pleased Dunedin went ahead and built this amazing new stadium. The noise from the crowd is amazing the closeness of the seats and the fact that it could be near snowing outside and no one would know because of the roof it has defiantly made going to the rugby in Dunedin alot more pleasant.
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