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Wonder down under | Auckland prepares for World Masters Games

  • More than 25,000 participants expected across 28 sports
  • City developing comprehensive social programme to run alongside sport
  • Auckland seeks to deliver NZ$30.8m GDP and 244,000 visitor nights to the economy

The world’s biggest multi-sport event, in terms of participation numbers, is ready to touch down in Auckland.

The 2017 World Masters Games take place from April 21-30, with more than 25,000 competitors from across the age spectrum set to descend on the New Zealand city.

Auckland was awarded the hosting rights by the International Masters Games Association (IMGA) in March 2012, with the organisation eschewing a traditional bidding contest for its showpiece event.

“We try to avoid bidding processes, because ultimately the World Masters Games has to be held in a place where the athletes, the end consumer, would want to go,” IMGA chief executive Jens Holm tells SportBusiness International. “We have a continuous dialogue with cities and constantly get requests. If there is an interesting city we will then see if we can reach a joint agreement. This was the case with Auckland, which has everything we are looking for.

“Apart from being a country that lives and breathes sport, it’s also quite compact, the venues are of excellent quality, it’s a very attractive tourist destination and it’s a market where the masters movement is very strong already.”

PICTURE: The Avantidrome, where several of the competitions will take place


Held every four years, the goal of the World Masters Games is to encourage participation in sport throughout life, with competition and camaraderie equally celebrated. There is no qualification criteria, other than age, with all athletes representing themselves not their country.

Auckland 2017 will have a total of 28 sports and 45 disciplines on its programme, some including para options, with 23,705 athletes having registered by closure of the main window on March 3.

As is customary, two sports – weightlifting and orienteering – will hold their annual World Masters Championships in Auckland, with more detailed entry requirements as a result. Otherwise, sports operate minimum age requirements ranging from 25 to 40, with a 101-year-old having registered for athletics.

As of March 3, basketball (170), beach volleyball (153) and softball (144) gained the most team entries, while athletics (1,953), orienteering (1,733) and swimming (1,625) led the way in individual events.

Jennah Wootten, chief executive of the World Masters Games 2017, says that multiple considerations had to be taken into account when drawing up the sports programme and the resulting venue plan, which takes in 48 facilities from the north of Auckland through to the Waikato region.

“There are 16 compulsory sports and then you have the ability to choose up to 14 additional sports,” she tells SportBusiness International. “We worked through a competitive process with the international sports organisations, making sure that each of our 28 sports really wanted to be here and cared about the effect and experience they wanted to create.

“We have sports that are certainly more popular in Europe than they are in our part of the world, but equally it’s the same in reverse. Orienteering, weightlifting, shooting and archery aren’t particularly popular down here, but at the other end of the scale surf lifesaving, touch rugby and netball are incredibly popular in New Zealand and Australia.

“There’s a careful balance to strike and the IMGA are quite clear during the bidding process that you must have 50 per cent of your athletes coming from outside the host nation.”

PICTURE: Lake Karapiro


Wootten says Auckland’s vision for the most successful Masters Games revolves around three key pillars of sport, a rich and diverse social programme and maximising the destination showcase.

In particular, she believes Auckland 2017’s social plans will “raise the bar” for the event and set a new benchmark for the Kansai region of Japan, which will host the next edition in 2021.

“We are developing a comprehensive social programme to sit alongside the sport,” Wootten says.

“There will be a 12,500-capacity site down on Auckland’s waterfront on Queen’s Wharf which will be our entertainment hub.

“During the day, this will be open to members of the public and will have a focus on young people, talking with families and children about the benefits of being healthy and active throughout life. In the evenings it will turn into far more of an entertainment zone, with an array of hospitality offerings, bands and comedy.”

Wootten says Auckland 2017’s efforts in developing its value proposition also represent a first for the Games.

With Auckland 2017’s financial plan including the generation of NZ$8.5m (€5.6m/$6m) through athlete registration fees, global participation is key.

And while New Zealand (10,594) and Australia (6,966) lead the way, the Games has managed to secure entries from its targeted 100 nations, with Canada (2,000), the US (1,260) and the UK (462) following the Antipodean countries.

“For the first time ever, we actually used research and insight to develop the value proposition and build the product offering for athletes and customers,” Wootten says.

“We ended up with three price points and three different packages on offer. Traditionally there has been one price point and one set of inclusions.

“For us, we learned pretty quickly that what appealed to a domestic audience in terms of price points and offerings for inclusion was quite different to what might appeal to the internationals.”

From the IMGA’s perspective, Holm says he is confident Auckland will move the Games concept on from its previous edition in Turin, Italy, adding the organisation expects a “lot of legacy” from it.

“In 2013, you have to remember that we were at the height of probably the worst financial crisis to hit Italy for a long time,” Holm says.

“There will be more athletes in Auckland and it will be run to a very high standard with the events and venues. I’m sure that Auckland’s Games will be if not the most successful, then one of the most successful we have ever had.”

PICTURE: St Heliers, where the triathlon will take place


Auckland 2017 is seeking to deliver NZ$30.8m GDP and 244,000 visitor nights to the city’s economy, along with NZ$53m GDP and 266,000 visitor nights to the wider New Zealand economy.

The New Zealand government (NZ$11m) and Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development on behalf of Auckland Council (NZ$11.75m) have invested approximately two-thirds of the NZ$35.85m required to stage the event with the remainder to come from registration fees and commercial sponsorship (NZ$4.6m).

Wootten says there has been a concerted effort to engage New Zealand business in the Games.

“The reason we wanted to do this was to leave a legacy where significant New Zealand brands and organisations were going to continue to invest in major events and sport,” she says.

“Our commercial partners have a similar approach in that it’s a partnership they’re not just investing in, but are genuinely leveraging because they hear of the opportunity around the Games. They’ve also got a vested interest in the strength of Auckland’s economy and the richness of our community post-April 2017.”

Wootten is also firmly of the belief that the inherent demographics of the World Masters Games present a golden opportunity to commercial partners.

She says: “When we started building our commercial programme back in 2013 what became apparent very quickly was that there was very little in that masters space for people to look at.

“Figures like the highest representation of athletes in a World Masters Games being between the ages of 40 and 49, average income being in excess of US$100,000 per annum and the fact they travel with wider family members makes it a very attractive proposition.”

PICTURE: Trusts Stadium


The inherently amateur sport focus of the Games has meant it has never received significant media coverage.

However, MediaWorks, New Zealand's largest independent broadcaster, is a commercial partner of the Games.

“While a World Masters Games is not traditionally broadcast like a Commonwealth Games or Olympics is, we have formed great partnerships with local media houses who have been incredibly engaged in getting these stories out,” Wootten says.

Wootten also says social media has been “huge” for Auckland 2017.

“When we won the hosting rights there wasn’t an existing Facebook, Twitter or Instagram following so we’ve started these from scratch,” she says. “We’re sitting at around 30,000 followers and we’re committed to ensuring there’s a transfer of those to Kansai 2021.”

Looking to the future, Wootten believes the World Masters Games will strengthen Auckland’s event-hosting credentials and says that “feasibility work” should be carried out into bidding for events like the Commonwealth Games – with Auckland having hosted New Zealand’s last edition of the event back in 1990.

PICTURE: Cable Bay Winery, one of the attractions of visiting the Auckland region

As regards the World Masters Games and the masters movement as a whole, Holm says the IMGA is on the “brink of something very exciting” following a partnership signed last year.

In November the International Olympic Committee (IOC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the IMGA. Under the agreement, the IOC and the IMGA will discuss the possibility of Olympic and Youth Olympic Games host cities organising the Masters Games in the years following their IOC events.

Holm says the future path of the MoU will be laid out after September’s determination of whether Los Angeles or Paris will host the 2024 summer Games.

“The IOC partnership will increase the awareness of masters sport,” Holm says. “We’ll continue along the lines of sport for all as we always have, but the IOC will also use us to show that the Olympic Movement is about more than just elite-level sport.”

PICTURE: Imperial Lane, one of the city's social hubs

EXTRA: Partnership priorities

Barfoot & Thompson signed up as the presenting partner and main sponsor of the 2017 World Masters Games in March 2014.

Peter Thompson, managing director of the Auckland-headquartered real estate company, says the decision to link up with the Games revolved around more than simply connecting with the masters demographic.

“Our brand awareness by sponsoring this event will be huge, but at the heart of it is the awareness and brand loyalty we create among Aucklanders,” he tells SportBusiness International.

“Naturally people in the age group targeted through the World Masters Games are more likely to be homeowners, so it does help, but the audience was not the only deciding factor for us.”

The firm will play a major role in the Games, with over 100 staff competing, including 80-year-old director Garth Barfoot, who has entered four events.

Nearly the same number will be volunteering, either directly with the Games organisation, or for Barfoot & Thompson at one of its sponsorship events.

Thompson adds: “The company’s leveraging programme consists of an extensive media campaign encompassing digital, out-of-home and press, a large public activation at the Games’ Entertainment Hub, distribution and presentation of over 26,000 bespoke caps to all medallists, provision of gifts to all athletes and supporters plus volunteer promo items.

“Branches across Auckland have been involved through their local communities promoting the Games and the distribution of over 115,000 pieces of branded promotional collateral. A key element of their community engagement has been through schools.”

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