- Publish Date
- Friday, 22 February 2019, 11:04AM
With all the debate swirling around the future of Eden Park and the myriad issues we have with stadia in this country, it is worth considering this: we're witnessing the slow death of sport as a live, outdoor spectator experience.
We are living in the age of the one-off, the "special" event. The days of the season-ticketholder are rapidly receding: the weekly commitment is too great and too expensive in this era of digital access.
Bledisloe Cup tests will continue to sell out, as will marquee rugby tests against the Lions and England, but we're already pushing into territory where the All Blacks are no longer a guaranteed stadium filler.
The spectating paradigm has evolved rapidly.
Sport franchises and stadium managers recognise it, but are near-impotent in the face of this modern reality. There is a whole generation of Wellingtonians, for example, who have only known their stadium as an open-air art installation of empty yellow seats.
Take away the "I was there" factor and what do stadiums, particularly New Zealand stadiums, have to offer?
Here's what I get if I watch the game, any game, at home: free parking, ultra-fast broadband, my favourite beer of the moment at liquor store prices, my favourite snacks at supermarket prices, multiple replays, a choice of commentary or silence depending on mood, an unimpeded view, the ability to start a little later and fast-forward through breaks. The product is not free because of the broadcast subscription, but it's more cost-effective than a match ticket. My kids, too, can come and go from the lounge depending on their interest (and can get to bed at a reasonable hour).
Here's what I get if I go to the stadium: not much of the above.
This is the contemporary dilemma of sports administrators: how do you convince grumpy buggers like me to go to the ground when everything is set up perfectly for me not to?
You can't fool people into thinking each game is a special occasion. You can only make people feel special when they walk through the gate but our stadia are just not set up to do that.
Much was made of the fact the Wellington Phoenix drew a bigger crowd for their match at Eden Park on Friday night than the hometown Blues attracted a night later. It shouldn't have been a shock at all. The city has been starved of professional football for years and the Phoenix are playing quite well this year so this was a chance to be part of a "special" event.
There was a curiosity factor about the Blues' new season, which is why they drew a decent crowd, but there'll be plenty more opportunities to watch them again. That Blues crowd, unless they find a way to the playoffs, could well be their high point.
The Warriors try harder than most teams to convince people that Penrose is a desirable destination but realistically they know they're going to struggle unless the team is playing well and there's a high-profile opponent in town. A mid-table clash against, say, the Panthers? Try selling that.
As for the cricket, when a city like Napier (and nearby Hastings) has been starved of international cricket and sends out less than 1000 of its citizens to watch the national team like they did last Wednesday, then you have an issue no matter who the opposition is.
Consider this: there were far more spectators for a farcical jolly between a team of has-been cricketers and rugby players at Hagley Oval than there were to watch the Black Caps. Why? One was sold as a special event, the other felt like something you could go to multiple times each summer.
Some sports and some leagues have held off the inevitable better than others. The AFL has made a push to attract families but can do so with the luxury of multiple afternoon kickoffs. The prevalent kickoff times in Super Rugby, the NRL and T20 cricket leagues work against that.
Auckland and Christchurch city officials are pondering what their stadiums of the future should look like. It's a far more complicated question than you might think: do you build for an All Blacks test crowd, or do you build for a Super Rugby crowd?
The first would be based on an optimistic belief that watching live sport will become trendy again. The second option might just be more rooted in reality.
TAP AND GO
A weekly series of way-too-quick-to-judge assessments based on Super Rugby form and trends.
1. It is impossible to rule out Ma'a Nonu as a World Cup bolter when the midfield choices appear so convoluted. Yes, pace is potentially an issue (particularly if paired with the rapidly slowing Sonny Bill Williams) and so is the ability to get through 80 minutes. You can pencil Jack Goodhue in there but all the other spots are surely up for grabs. Anton Lienert-Brown has impressed far more as a sub than a starter; SBW is running on old legs, Ngani Laumape has gaps in his game; Ryan Crotty is a reliable player with an unreliable body, and so on.
2. If Akira Ioane can harness that talent he could offer the All Blacks something no other loose forward can. He has pace, he has power and the ball skills. What he's never shown is the mental toughness to bring the full package to the ground, week in, week out. Sometimes it appears he's more interesting in baiting the opposition with cheap shots and verbal sparring than he does grinding it out. It's just one week in, but this version of Ioane is what his coaches should demand more often.
3. If you want an example of how to butcher a game, check out the Chiefs' final 15 minutes against the Highlanders. Up by four (which would soon become seven), and facing 14 men for the remainder of the match, the Chiefs had to do pretty much everything wrong to steal this defeat, which they did. It could be a long season in the Tron.
Last week I touched upon the fact that New Zealand were running out of time to come up with a coherent one-day game plan. Unfortunately, the Bangladesh series, the last official ODI matches New Zealand will play before the World Cup, has done nothing to fix it.
The Black Caps have been pretty good in destroying the visitors twice by eight wickets, but they haven't really needed to be. They've been gifted first use of tricky wickets twice and have only had to get the ball there or thereabouts to prise out wickets.
Chasing small totals, they've only needed Martin Guptill to repel a bowling attack whose high-heat tops out at 125 clicks.
So, having had about four years to come up with something, New Zealand will head to England with an unproven opening batting combination; with little clue as to what they'll get from their lower middle order hitters; with serious question marks over a second spinner (including whether they actually need one); and only slightly less serious question marks over their death bowling.
It is unfair to ping the Black Caps for demolishing Sri Lanka and now Bangladesh, but for a team that is renowned for their innovation and resourcefulness, this has been a perplexing build-up to a major tournament.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
In a stadium-themed edition, the only choice for here was this deep dive into... the toilets. From ESPN.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.