New Zealand Rugby League fans have made the inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines the most successful rugby league event in the country's history.
The innovative format, which brings together every NRL team at Eden Park on February 15 and 16, already has attendance at 36,000 per day two months out from the landmark tournament and is on track to virtually sell out the 44,000 ground capacity on both days.
With two months to go before the tournament starts, ticket revenue has passed over $3million – the highest figure ever recorded for a rugby league event in New Zealand.
NRL Chief Executive Dave Smith joined the CEO and Managing Director of Dick Smith, Nick Abboud, along with NRL stars Todd Carney, Willie Tonga, Greg Bird and Robbie Farah in Sydney to officially launch the Nine's trophy and to give a first look at some of the playing strips.
"This is a brand new product for our fans and members and we couldn't be happier with the way New Zealand rugby league fans have embraced the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines," Mr Smith said.
"This new tournament is great for our fans and great for our game. The $3 million mark represents the greatest revenue take by any previous rugby league event in New Zealand by some way.
"There is obviously an appetite for Nines rugby league – something we are very happy about as we look to grow the game in New Zealand."
The historic $NZ3 million figure is believed to be more than triple in gross ticket revenue than any Warriors NRL game or Kiwis Test takes in New Zealand. This early success signals a commercially viable event and builds a solid platform to establish the NRL Auckland Nines as a signature event for Auckland.
Mr Abboud said: "Dick Smith is proud to be the inaugural naming rights sponsor for the NRL Auckland Nines competition.
"The early success Dave has spoken about today further underpins our decision to be involved and is a tribute to the NRL and the clubs' foresight in ensuring this tournament is viable from year one.
"This result, alongside the willingness of the teams and their star players to be involved, confirms our belief that this will be New Zealand's biggest summer event. It immediately connected with our business and our customers and has clearly connected with the rugby league community on both sides of the Tasman.
"The team at Dick Smith are excited about the event and the two outstanding days of fast paced attacking rugby league at Eden Park in Auckland."
Duco Events Director David Higgins backed Mr Abboud's comments: "I am not surprised by the ticket sales as the event is unique. Unlike other circuit events this is the best-of-the-best coming together for two days of high intensity football for the biggest purse ever offered in any sport and at any time in New Zealand."
Ticket sales have been helped by the agreement between the tournament and the NRL's 16 clubs which guarantees at least one top five player from each club's salary cap will play in Auckland alongside at least 12 of each club's top 25 salary capped players.
The quality of the teams has also been matched by the prize pool with the winning team at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines banking a winners cheque of $AUD370,000 and the stunning tournament trophy – an organic fusion of NRL Auckland Nines brand identity and rugby league links designed by renowned Australian sculptor Roger Apte.
The Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines has also gained support from a long line of rugby league royalty including State of Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley, Newcastle Knights mentor and arguably one of the game's greatest coaches Wayne Bennett and Queensland and Australia great Steve Price. They have all thrown their support behind the event and the "unique celebration of rugby league".