Sports

Did Eden Park pull off a grand beer swindle? A Spinoff investigation

Is it a tale of a trusted institution gone rogue? There’s fan revolt. Official denial. Who do you believe?

It was meant to be a happy night at Eden Park. The Black Caps were harvesting Australia’s souls. Their heatstruck fans were braying for Australian blood. And in most parts of the ground, beer was flowing freely at a standard rate of 425ml per pour.

There was just one problem. According to a group of fans, one bar was going rogue. It had inexplicably started peddling smaller serves of beer. Charging the same price. Some of those affected say they were swindled out of millilitres, or even centi-litres of sweet booze. They say at the very least, the issue amounts to a baffling bureaucratic failure. At worst, a grave and deliberate injustice. But according to officials, there was never an issue. Could they be right? Could the fans’ story all be some kind of boozy delusion, invented in the short-circuiting synapses of their Tui-soaked brains?

Our search for the truth began after the alleged offence popped up on Facebook.

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Martin Dykes, an alcohol drinker from Auckland, said he bought a Tui after the innings changeover, and noticed the cup had shrunk. He held it out to the bar manager and asked what had happened.

“They said it was because they had run out of the bigger cups.”

His question sparked uproar in the beer queue. Fans wanted to know why they were getting served less beer for the same $8.50 price. The barman stared back, blank and unruffled, repeating his ‘no cups’ mantra. Dykes said he wanted to escalate the issue, but wanted to watch the cricket more. He decided to walk away, though his feelings of loss still linger.

But was there even a crime to be answered for?

The Spinoff spent an afternoon in deep conversation with Eden Park catering manager Paul Marquardt in an effort to find out. We talked over several hours about serve sizes, wet pours, Tony Veitch, and decanting into vessels. At a low ebb, he explained the life-cycle of fresh beer.

“A freshly poured wet pour beer that’s been sitting around for any length of time in the heat we’ve had the last few weeks isn’t going to be that cold and the head usually dissipates,” he said.

Marquardt was determined to disprove Dykes’ claim he was served beer in a slightly smaller vessel than he could reasonably expect. He first argued Dykes’ beer was poured in a corporate lounge, where all the drinks are served out of bottles, leaving no room for variations in serve sizes.

“I’m still unsure about the photo and the location, and the description that they were on a pile of wood,” he said. “We have to keep the concourses clear to move people through.”

When we said the beer was bought from bar near Entry D, among the concourse-dwellers, his case shifted, re-centring on the fact there were 10,000 spare 425ml cups left over after the match. No bar would have run out of big cups, he said.

The bar by Entry D. Photo / Paul Marquardt

The bar by Entry D. Photo / Paul Marquardt

As evidence, he pointed to a video of noted domestic abuser Tony Veitch pouring beer into what appears to be an abundant supply of standardised 425ml cups at a bar near the site of the alleged incident.

The Spinoff told Dykes about Marquardt’s rebuttal.

“It may be detailed but it’s still rubbish,” he said.

The fact remained that he had been sold a lesser quantity of beer for the same price, he said.

“I reckon it was about 20ml difference. So if you’re buying eight beers or 12 beers, that’s half a beer you’ve missed out on. We suddenly got served less beer. Surely that’s an injustice?”

The Commerce Commission agreed. Its spokesman told The Spinoff that if the allegation is proved, Eden Park may have committed an international war crime breached the Fair Trading Act.

“If you change a product without telling consumers, you risk misleading them and breaching the Fair Trading Act,” a statement said. “Vendors at the game had set expectations on the price and size of a beer. If the quantity changed, but price didn’t, they should be transparent about that so customers aren’t misled into purchasing a lesser product.”

An Auckland councillor who attended the game echoed its sentiment, saying a change in serve size would be an egregious breach of etiquette.

“Bloody outrageous if the licence holder for hospitality reduced the serving size but held the price without giving notice. Do you think police were involved?” he wrote in a Facebook message.

The Spinoff clarified they weren’t.

“Somebody needs to search the waste bin by the sounds of it,” he wrote.

The area where the alleged offence occurred. Photo / Paul Marquardt

The area where the alleged offence occurred. Photo / Paul Marquardt

There was no way we were going to go through the waste bins. So the question remains: On 04.02.2016, during the second half of the One Day International between the Black Caps and Australia, did Eden Park reduce the size of its beer vessels while still charging the same price?

All we know is something bad happened to Martin Dykes and his friends that day. Something happened to the people around them. Somehow, they believe they paid for a big beer and got served a slightly littler one. And that’s wrong. Even if we are base jumping down the global corruption rankings, and dismissing batsmen off their shoes, this is still New Zealand. It’s meant to be a place where everyone gets a fair go. And if that’s too much to expect, surely the least we ask for is that $8.50 still gets us an oversized cup of Tui at the cricket.

UPDATE: A fan has written in to say she experienced the same issue. Email hayden@thespinoff.co.nz with your news tips

UPDATE 2: Evidence is mounting.

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