Comment: These are fairly underwhelming times to be a fan of New Zealand sports teams and athletes.
Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was less absorbed and less connected and I suspect I’m not alone.
Sure, you will always have your rusted-on fans, those who live and breathe their preferred codes and teams.
But for those of us looking for a reason to get interested in something, there’s not a lot that’s compelling us to tune in.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. For two years now, our ability to actively support live sport has either been eliminated entirely or restricted.
That’s about to change and many administrators will hope that fans flock back. It’s just that so many of us have become accustomed to not going and, often, not actually caring either.
Super Rugby Pacific irrelevant
Let’s start with the national game. Super Rugby Pacific is a poor competition. It just is.
The franchise model has been tweaked and tinkered with to the extent that general sports fans have lost touch with the format and who’s actually playing.
Super Rugby is a terribly pale imitation of its former self because, at least in my opinion, we’ve let too many talented players and coaches go overseas. The product isn’t as good, because few of the personnel are as good.
No amount of new teams, new time slots and new playing conditions can change that.
The competition has ceased to be relevant to those beyond the rugby beltway and that’s a big problem.
Even the All Blacks don’t generate the interest they used to.
I’ll use last year’s tour to Europe as an example.
Time was when being outplayed and beaten by both Ireland and France would elicit outrage. This time around, those that could still be bothered following the fortunes of the team merely shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
Let’s cast our gaze elsewhere, then.
I don’t follow the Winter and Summer Olympics or the America’s Cup, but I readily acknowledge those events matter to many others. Only, they’re so infrequent that they have a novelty value that sets them slightly apart from the more run-of-the-mill stuff fans are turning their backs on.
Take a sport such as cricket, which our governing body has made irrelevant. The Black Caps are barely visible in this country and won’t be attracting any eyeballs when they meet the Netherlands.
I suspect New Zealand Cricket (NZC) has misgivings about throwing its lot in with Spark and wouldn’t be surprised if they soon link with a broadcaster with broader reach.
But the Black Caps aren’t alone in losing their relevance.
The White Ferns, for instance, are irrelevant for a different reason. They don’t win when they need to, giving fans nothing to get behind.
How relevant are the New Zealand Breakers or the Wellington Phoenix? What about the New Zealand Warriors?
Each have a committed fanbase, but who else watches or takes an interest?
We lampooned poor Michael Campbell for years but, boy, what we wouldn’t give now for a male golfer capable of winning or contending in majors.
Not only did Campbell win a US Open and a World Matchplay title, but results such as third at The Open Championship and sixth at the PGA Championship gave rank-and-file sports fans something to get excited about.
Lydia Ko is an outstanding golfer and, while I watch most LPGA Tour events, not too many others do.
Combat sports, such as boxing and UFC, have their loyal enthusiasts but I’m not among them and nor are the masses.
Like Super Rugby, ANZ Championship netball isn’t what it was. I try hard to tune into that, but we don’t have the calibre of player or contest that we once did.
Super Rugby Aupiki could be amazing, but this iteration came and went too quickly for it to generate an audience.
I don’t know what we can do to get more fans taking an active interest in high-performance sport and, frankly, it’s not my job to. But if those who do run sports and teams in this country don’t think we have an issue here, then they’re dreaming.
Administrators get awfully upset and defensive about negative coverage. At all times they’re trying to win favour, rather than opprobrium.
But an angry fan is an engaged fan. Apathy is a far greater problem and something I fear is increasingly widespread.
A lot of people make a lot of money out of sport. Be they players, coaches or management staff, most owe their living to television viewers and bums on seats.
Without those, the whole model falls over.
Well, I can’t remember a time when New Zealanders were less enthused about the sporting product being sold to them and it behoves those on the big bucks to give us something to start watching and talking about again.