As she hunkered down for a cold night outside Carisbrook rugby stadium on an undercover mission to raid netball tickets for the Southern Sting in 1999, 18-year-old university student Carla Dunne never imagined the franchise would dominate her future career.
Fast-forward 23 years and with a new surname, O’Meara is the marketing manager for the Sting’s successor the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel and at the helm of all ticketing.
2022 marks 25 years of elite netball leagues in New Zealand and has been a chance for O’Meara to reflect on some iconic moment’s in the south’s netball heritage – including a night which became sporting folklore.
“The Otago Rebels were hosting the Coca Cola Cup final against the Sting and had effectively locked Southlanders out of buying tickets so Southern TeamCo director Lee Piper hatched a cunning plan to go undercover and buy them in Dunedin,” O’Meara recalled.
“My uncle Peter Dunne enlisted me to recruit my mates and make sure we were at the front of the queue when tickets went on sale. It was pretty amazing we pulled it off because there was no texting in those days, it was all just word of mouth around ex-Verdon College students.
“We had a good time, a lot of laughs, and of course we took drinks because we were varsity students after all.”
Braving the elements, the group soon attracted media exposure.
“A couple of the group had compulsory course requirements they couldn’t get out of so they lied and said they were sick. When the newspaper rocked up to take a photo of us they had to cover their faces and quickly think of false names. We still laugh about that.
“We had to downplay what we were actually doing so said we were just buying tickets for our mates. But in reality we were nabbing them for Southern TeamCo to on-sell to Sting fans.”
The plan worked and the Sting clinched the silverware with a dynamic 63-54 win.
“It was a very special time to be part of. It was exciting to be able to swoop down onto the court after that final whistle and celebrate the win with coach Robyn Broughton and our Verdon classmate Nicola Russell,” O’Meara said.
Graduating with a commerce and marketing degree from Otago University, O’Meara spent four years in Wellington before returning home to work at ILT Stadium Southland in 2007.
“I was very excited to be involved with the ticketing for the Sting games, especially the grand final that year even though it was held in North Harbour. We got to sell tickets to Sting fans and pack a plane north.”
The Sting morphed into the Steel the following year when the Trans-Tasman ANZ Championship became a reality.
“The prospect of the Australian teams was really exciting so we were pumped for Steel,” O’Meara said.
“It was a huge mission to setup the merged ticketing database and it was upsetting for the Sting fans who had to queue to secure new seats and adapt to a new structure.”
The collapse of the stadium in 2010 reignited ticketing woes as a temporary new venue was established in the neighbouring velodrome.
“I actually really enjoyed the challenge of making all the logistics work and we eventually managed to pack over 2000 fans in.”
O’Meara joined the ranks of the Steel itself in 2012 to manage the franchise’s membership and ticketing initiatives.
“It really has come full circle over the years. The common denominator has always been the fans and I know how passionate they are because I’ve camped overnight for tickets too,” she said.
The latest challenge to strike was Covid-19 which had significantly impacted on crowds allowed courtside so far in this ANZ Premiership season.
“Our Steel members are undoubtedly the loyalist in the country so when we were faced with just 100 tickets to allocate for our opening games, we refused to take the easy road of a lottery. It was important to value that loyalty so we dusted off our 2008 Steel foundation members list and allocated tickets based on that,” O’Meara said.
Naturally, she thrives on the thrill of a sold-out venue and is eagerly anticipating the return of the electrifying energy fans bring to Steel games.
Faced with a trio of away games for the next two rounds, the Steel’s next home game is against the MG Mystics at ILT Stadium Southland on April 17.
For further information, contact: Kate Buchanan, Media Manager - 021 292 1660