News | 29 May 2023
Share on social

A History of Wellington Regional Stadium

Wellington wouldn’t be Wellington without its stadium. As the city embarks on its biggest transformation programme since the development of the Wellington waterfront more than 30 years ago, we’re highlighting some corners of the city that help make Wellington a better place to live, work, and play.

Birds eye view shot of the Wellington Regional Stadium  with writing that reads 'City building.'

Known commercially as ‘Sky Stadium’ since 2020 and as Westpac Stadium for 20 years before that, the Wellington Regional Stadium has been a fixture of New Zealand’s sport and cultural landscape for over two decades. The Stadium has hosted a wide range of sporting events and concerts, making it a popular destination for Wellingtonians and visitors alike.  

Building a new Stadium was first proposed in the early 1990s, when the main destination for Wellington sports events at the time, Athletic Park, was no longer able to meet the safety and capacity needs of the growing population. Athletic Park was well loved, but it was not well placed. Located in Newtown, it was difficult for many visitors to access, and was a victim of Wellington’s weather, with the stands being known to sway in the strong southerly winds. 

Sports game at the stadium.

In 1991, Wellington Rugby prepared to modernise and strengthen Athletic Park, a plan which evolved into Wellington City Council planning to redevelop the Basin Reserve by 1993. Planning focus shifted again the following year when the Government granted building access on surplus land near Wellington railway station. This location was ideal as it allowed easy access to the venue from the station, as well as the scenic view of Wellington’s waterfront.

The project was ambitious, which sparked uncertainty from some Wellingtonians. Initial consultation showed concern that building the Stadium may be expensive, unnecessary, and disruptive. People had fond memories of Athletic Park and wanted it to stay, overlooking its issues. There were objections that there would be more traffic, and less parking options because of construction, which concerned residents of the area. While polls showed a 75% support rate across the region, the cost of building a brand-new stadium was going to be expensive, and some were doubtful the investment would pay off. 

Stadium and cruise ships in Wellington harbour.

Despite these initial concerns, the Wellington Regional Stadium has persevered to become a beloved, prosperous part of the city's identity. The Stadium took nearly two years to complete and had a final cost of $130 million. Wellington City Council and its ratepayers contributed $15 million of this cost, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council provided an additional $25 million. The remaining funding came from fundraising, loans, donations, and grants. 

In the Stadium’s first twenty years an estimated 2.4 million people have travelled to Wellington for events, contributing millions of dollars to our region’s economy. The success of the Stadium far exceeded the 1996 profit forecasts, with the 2011 Rugby World Cup bringing in an estimated $94 million into the Wellington region.

The Stadium made history as the world’s first purpose-built modern cricket and rugby stadium and has 34,500 seats. Since its official opening on 3 January 2000, it has welcomed over 11,000,000 fans, played host to numerous high-profile events including the Rugby World Cup 2011 and Cricket World Cup 2015, large scale exhibitions including the annual beer festival Beervana, and concerts by some of the world's biggest musicians. On 2 March 2019, the Stadium drew a crowd of 46,474 for Eminem's Rapture concert, a record recently beaten by the 48,000-person attendance of Ed Sheeran’s + - = ÷ x tour in February 2023.

Inside the stadium.

In 2023, Wellington Regional Stadium hosted nine games as part of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the largest women’s sporting event in the world. 

For major sporting events and concerts, over 1,000 staff are employed to provide the catering and security services.  The Stadium has become an important part of Wellington’s economy and identity, creating hundreds of jobs, and countless special memories for all who have visited.

Sky Stadium Chief Executive Shane Harmon believes the Stadium has been a big success story for Wellington.

“That initial $40m investment from Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council has delivered $1.2bn spend from out-of-region visitors attending events in the Stadium’s first 20 years of operation.”

“From sporting events to concerts and exhibitions, there's something for everyone over any one calendar year.”

Look out for other interesting articles as part of our City Building series or find out more about Positively Pōneke on our website.