Rugby - the apathy in New Zealand is official

For those that saw the TV One CloseUp interview with Steve Tew last night will now know that the rugby following pundits here in NZ are ... bored / apathetic / fed up.
Rugby in Ruins
In spite of the rugby World Cup disaster, a financial loss, dwindling attendance and waning interest in Super 14 games and the continuing loss of key players overseas the New Zealand rugby union gave itself a pass mark at its AGM on Wednesday. There's no shortage of critics who reckon the union has been rather generous giving itself a 52% pass mark. Just how serious is the decline in our national game, and are we reaching a crisis point? Close Up debated the issue live with New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew, rugby commentator Phil Gifford and former All Black Frank Bunce.

I think Frank Bunce and Phil Gifford hit the nail on the head with their thoughts. It was Gifford that said something like, "What worries me is that the rugby community aren't angry about this [NZRU review], they aren't talking about it - they don't care. That is more worrying than anything else!"

YES!

The best line though was from Steve Tew himself when he said (I paraphrase) that when he got home and had a few mates around to watch a game even he was becoming overwhelmed by the amount of rugby being played ALREADY!

For fvcks sake, the cricket season has just finished and yet we are into week ELEVEN of the Super 14.

One good thing about the thoughts from last night, at least it's not just me.

However, I think NZRU has a serious problem ... and I don't think they know what to do.
The World Cup 2011 will be a side issue if they don't sort out the grass roots. Imagine, the RUGBY world cup in New Zealand being an even along the lines of the Softball Championships - it'll be on TV sure, we'll all hear a few results but will the rugby following punters care - possibly not. IMAGINE!

I do also feel for Steve Tew and his team:
  • NZ has a small population therefore the domestic game can only earn so much.
  • The NZRU has, through the All Blacks tradition and reputation, been batting above its weight.
  • Without a World Cup win the All Black reputation and therefore earning potential is decreasing.
  • Without money the PROFESSIONAL players look to earn elsewhere.
  • Without players becomes a 2nd tier rugby playing nation.
Couldn't happen?
Happened to Wales and everyone in the late 70's early 80's said it couldn't. It's taken a good 10- years for Wales to build back from the precipice of becoming "Italy".

And I think South Africa, Australia and England secretly know it and are loving the opportunity to use it. SA & Australia have been the drivers in SANZAR - look at the expansion of Super 14 and where/when the All Blacks are having to play. Steve Tew admitted it last night.

39% drop in rugby viewers for the Super 14 last year.
What will the number be this year? A drop will be a drop in the NZRU's bargaining position and ever decreasing circle continues.

I hate having to write this as it's a game that has been more than just winning/losing, it's my heritage. My mate summed up the feelings when he talked about Cardiff being in the FA Cup Final - different sport but same emotions.

So, what should happen?
What needs to occur?

In my opinion, three things should be set in motion right now:
  1. Forget about trying to be THE ALL BLACKS
    let it go, trying to be king whilst losing the kingdom can only have one logical end
  2. Bring back Saturday afternoon games
    An All Black game at 2:35pm gives a chance for rugby to be talked about. And that's what the fans want, the talk, be in a community and be able to be passionate WITH others.
  3. Forget about TV income
    The fans don't just want to be passionate they want to do it WITH others.
When I use the "forget", I mean let the feeling that it is the be-all-and-end-all go. Forget as in drop its emotional priority, face another way, think of the whole picture ... that sort of thing.

What do you think - leave a comment ...

BTW - this is what the NZRU are saying are the new priorities to their "stakeholders and supporters", note the order!
  1. Drive fan interest
  2. Undertake strategic reviews of the Air New Zealand Cup competition and Rebel Sport Super 14 competition and Franchises
  3. Implement the Community Rugby Plan
  4. Ensure the All Blacks are a winning team
  5. Generate significant and sustainable new revenue


More reporting on the NZRU's woes*:

* and it is theirs because, right now, I feel so disconnected from rugby that I can't imagine how it's my problem. They include me in the sport again and maybe I will think I should do something. And that's why I am going for the "random" in the VirtualSuper14 this week - can't do any worse than:
You've scored 267 points for MiramarMike so far and your Global rank is 74849. Can you improve this in Round 11?

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