Poor fare leaves most sports fans with little to savor

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Comment: These are pretty disappointing times to be a fan of New Zealand sports teams and athletes.

Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was less engrossed and less connected and I suspect I’m not alone.

It would be fair to say that none of the main sporting codes of Aotearoa warm the hulls of Hamish Bidwell’s heart these days.
Photo: photo port

Of course, you will always have your rusty fans, those who live and breathe their favorite codes and teams.

But for those of us looking for a reason to care about something, there isn’t much that compels 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 directors are hoping fans will return. It’s just that a lot of us have gotten used to not going there and, oftentimes, not caring either.

Uninspiring Super Rugby Pacific

Let’s start with the national game. The Super Rugby Pacific is a bad competition. It’s just.

The franchise model has been tweaked and tinkered with as general sports fans have lost touch with the format and who actually plays.

Super Rugby is a terribly pale imitation of itself because, at least in my opinion, we have let too many talented players and coaches go overseas. The product is not so good, because few staff is so good.

No amount of new teams, new slots, and new playing conditions can change that.

The competition has ceased to be relevant for those beyond the rugby belt and that’s a big deal.

Even the All Blacks no longer arouse the interest they once had.

I’ll use last year‘s tour of Europe as an example.

The time was when being dominated and beaten by both Ireland and France would cause outrage. This time around, those who might still be bothered by the team’s fortunes simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on.

New Zealander Jordie Barrett was dejected after the defeat to Ireland in 2021.

Jordie Barrett and her fellow All Blacks look dejected after their loss to Ireland last November.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

So let’s look elsewhere.

I don’t follow the Winter and Summer Olympics or the America’s Cup, but I readily admit that these events count for many others. Only they’re so infrequent that they have a novelty value that sets them slightly apart from the more ordinary stuff that fans turn their backs on.

Take a sport like cricket, which our governing body has made unnecessary. The Black Caps are barely visible in this country and won’t attract any attention when they meet the Netherlands.

I suspect New Zealand Cricket (NZC) are reluctant to get started with Spark and wouldn’t be surprised if they soon link up with a broadcaster with a wider reach.

But the Black Caps aren’t the only ones losing their relevance.

White ferns, for example, are irrelevant for a different reason. They don’t win when they need to, giving nothing to the fans behind them.

How relevant are the New Zealand Breakers or the Wellington Phoenix? And the New Zealand Warriors?

Each has an engaged fanbase, but who else watches or cares?

We’ve poked fun at poor Michael Campbell for years, but boy, what wouldn’t we give now for a male golfer who could win or fight in the majors.

Not only has Campbell won a US Open and a World Matchplay title, but results such as third place at The Open Championship and sixth place at the PGA Championship have given grassroots sports fans something to get excited about.

Lydia Ko is an exceptional golfer, and while I watch most LPGA Tour events, few others do.

Lydia Ko holds the tournament trophy after winning the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA.

Lydia Ko
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Combat sports, like boxing and the UFC, have their loyal followings, but I’m not one of them and neither are the masses.

Like Super Rugby, ANZ Championship netball isn’t what it used to be. I try to adapt to that, but we no longer have the caliber of player or competition that we once had.

Super Rugby Aupiki might be amazing, but this iteration has come and gone too fast to generate an audience.

Portia Woodman of Chiefs Manawa during Super Rugby Aupiki - MatatÅ« V Chiefs Manawa V Hurricanes Poua at Owen Delany Park in TaupÅ, New Zealand on Saturday 05 March 2022. Photo copyright: Aaron Gillions / www.photosport.nz

Super Rugby Aupiki is promising but hasn’t had time to build a following.
Photo: PhotoSport / Aaron Gilons

I don’t know what we can do to get more fans to take an active interest in top-level sport and, frankly, that’s not my job. But if those who run sports and teams in this country don’t think we have a problem here, then they are dreaming.

Administrators are terribly upset and defensive in the face of negative coverage. At all times they try to win favor rather than opprobrium.

But an angry fan is an engaged fan. Apathy is a much bigger problem and something I fear is becoming more prevalent.

Many people make a lot of money through sports. Whether players, coaches or executives, most owe their lives to viewers and bums in the seats.

Without these, the whole model falls apart.

Well, I can’t remember a time when New Zealanders were less enthusiastic about the sporting product being sold to them and it behooves those with the big money to give us something to watch and talk about.

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