By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The New Zealand stop on the World Sevens Series end could be moved from the country's capital after plummeting fan interest saw the Wellington tournament post a second loss in 18 years in January.
The tournament was once one of the most popular on the circuit, with tickets for the 34,500-capacity Wellington Regional Stadium selling out in minutes and costume-clad fans turning the event into a two-day party.
A clampdown by authorities on misbehaviour and the rise of competing events has seen interest wane considerably since 2014, however, with vast tracts of empty yellow seats providing a backdrop to the action.
"The gate income from the Wellington Sevens this year has left us with a loss," New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
"That has caused a sobering re-think of just where we sit. It's not a small amount of money and any loss is worthy of attention."
Tew would not confirm exactly how much NZR had lost but said that as part of its review of the tournament, it was considering a move away from Wellington. The only other year the tournament made a loss was in 2015.
NZR has a contract with World Rugby to host a tournament on the 10-stop series until 2019 and Auckland and Dunedin are possible alternative venues.
"We are looking at all the options," Tew said. "It's worth saying that over a prolonged period of time the sevens in Wellington have been a success.
"They have been a great fan experience, they launched sevens in this country in my view and New Zealand Rugby, Wellington rugby, the city and stadium made substantial amounts of money out of it.
"Unfortunately where it sits right now is not where it wants to be, despite significant endeavours to reshape and re-price the tournament.
"It hasn't worked from the fan interest perspective and that is the reality we face."
(This version of the story removes reference to first financial loss after NZR correction)
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)