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Christchurch's Westpac Centre hosts sizzling summer sport spectaculars - stadium style!

In one fast and furious fortnight in summer the Westpac Centre for Sport and Entertainment in Christchurch hosted some sizzling sports action.

The NZ Breakers played two games against arch trans-Tasman rivals in the Australian National Basketball League, winning both games against Townsville Crocs and Perth Wildcats. It's the first season for the new national team, coached by Frank Argeso and captained by Tall Blacks veteran Pero Cameron.

The Mercedes Challenge on 2 February drew 4000 people to see John McEnroe making his first appearance in Christchurch in an exhibition game against Australian's Wimbledon men's single champion, Pat Cash. McEnroe won the three set match - but only on a tie breaker.

Venue manager NCC (New Zealand) Ltd played pivotal roles in bringing all three events to the city. Executive Director Mike Kelly sees it as a long term strategy.

"From an economic impact point of view there is great tourism and commercial benefit in games being televised out of Christchurch into the Australian market. There were over 100 Australians who travelled to Christchurch for the Townsville Crocs game on 14 January," Mike Kelly said.

"The NZ Breaker's product has proven itself to be top notch and its management is astute and focussed. Within 3 years I think they will be playing and contending in playoff action and we want to see some of that in Christchurch."

"There is no reason that attendance at a NZ Breakers game can't rival that of Silver Fern international netball in Christchurch. Both have a strong base of participants, school and structured league play. I saw what NZ men's basketball can aspire to at the World Championships in Indianapolis last year and I'd like to see that repeated, again and again. The NZ Breakers provide the vehicle to develop that championship form and they play an important role in the future of basketball in New Zealand - especially against the Aussie's!"

"We had crowds of 2000 but if they were playoff games, particularly a final, and the Christchurch numbers would be much, much greater. Team travel and accommodation, even scaled down, and occupies 20 airline seats and hotel rooms sixteen times a year during the regular season."

The basketball players were delighted with the venue itself. American import player Mike Chappell said it was the best venue the team had played in and the staff and management had been great to deal with.

That's what Mike Kelly likes to hear, and as a basketball fan himself, he wants to grow the audience for the sport in the South Island.

"This season we've succeeded in bringing three games of top notch NZ Breaker's ANBL competition to the Westpac Centre in Christchurch. The venue environment played a significant role, and made it possible financially for the NZ Breakers to play their January fixtures there."

In November the NZ Breakers conceded they had taken "a severe beating financially on the first Christchurch match against Brisbane" so NCC (NZ) Ltd made sure the January games would happen.

"I believe we've got a sophisticated and supportive basketball audience in Christchurch that wants to see Australian National Basketbell League games but, as with many things, to make that happen they have to vote with their feet. I am not sure that it is reasonable to expect the Breakers to lose money to play here. I don't think they are positioned to do that. The Westpac Centre would be pleased to work with fans and commercial interests to create a Breaker's Basketball Booster's Club to buy limited "season's tickets" for the 3 to 5 games that might be played here. In fact, the Westpac Centre will buy the first 20 packs of season's tickets (that's 20 tickets for up to 5 games) to express our support for the Breakers," Mike Kelly said.

Talk back and grand slamming TV commentator Phil Leishman was MC for the Mercedes Challenge, and in the pre-match warm up he asked members of the 4200-strong crowd what they had come to see. Was it the great tennis from one of the game's best technicians? Was it to see grand slam shots? No - several people came to see the famous McEnroe talk back and his aggression! They were not to be disappointed. On the world class Nu Hide court provided by Acclaim Courts Australia the ball and racquet spun off the surface, while insults were served up to the umpire and linesmen along the way too.