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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

7th Inning Stretch – Where are all the fans?

Somewhat masked by the hyped release of Rugby World Cup tickets, it seems almost every other competition in Kiwi (and world, for that matter) sport is struggling to attract attention.

While here we are building for the biggest event we will probably ever host, we might be pulling attention away from the niggling problem that sports spectatorship is changing, and not necessarily for the better.

The big indicator of this, for me, was the Blues’ semi-final against the Waratahs. Sudden death rugby for a revived province, the hype on rugby during World Cup year, some of the best players in the country on show—still no fans. It’s almost excusable to play in front of empty stands during the regular season, but I can’t help but think that not too long ago, this would have been a sell-out.

So what’s changed so much?

The quality’s certainly not any worse, and the weather’s hardly changed. Everywhere else, the fans are at least finding something to turn up to. Australia jumped on board the Queensland Reds, and will now focus on AFL. The Poms are clinging to cricket while they don’t have any football, and America—even without the NBA, NFL or NHL—has the MLB to keep them busy. But here, we just seem disinterested. So what is it about us that have us so bored?
The answer is the everyday Kiwi sports fan is a lazy bastard. He (or she) would rather sit on the couch and be bombarded by ‘expert’ analysis, slow-motion cheerleading replays and the odd bit of choice advertising. Broadcasting is now tailored to suit the needs of the couch potato. In many ways, a crowd isn’t even necessary. Gone are the days when there was something special to take from actually being there.

Every now and again, New Zealand sport throws something at us that is actually worth getting out of the house and attending. The Rugby World Cup will be one of them. The All Whites’ playoff against Bahrain was another. So was the charity cricket match at the Basin in February. The Sevens. And yes, there will be others. But we can’t rely on these one-offs when our national sport won’t even sell out for a semi-final—even against the Aussies!

All the while, we’re bumping up the capacity of our stadiums. What are we planning on doing with the new and ‘improved’ Eden Park after the World Cup? We can kid ourselves into thinking a 50,000 seater isn’t a waste of time and money. We can believe it’ll be filled once a year. But in truth, we’re upgrading it for a certain game on October 23. I doubt very many people have thought too much further ahead than that day.

So while the World Cup is going to be great for us all, come the Monday after the final (or whenever the hangover has worn off), somebody is going to have to approach the pressing problem of filling our grandstands. And it won’t be the sports themselves—they’re more than happy to sell the game to the bloke on the couch. Instead, it’s up to us. So come on guys. Out of the house, and bums on seats.


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