22 May 2017

Sevens move: Band-aid or kiss of life?

8:07 pm on 22 May 2017

Opinion - The Sevens are heading to Mooloo-land and literally greener pastures, but is it a good idea? Did the capital miss a trick or has Hamilton just inherited a lemon?

Seven fans getting into it.

The series has been held in the capital since the start of the millennium. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Sevens series has been held in the capital since 2000, but will move to Hamilton from next year.

The first thing to consider is that Wellington had to rid themselves of the event, because it had become a laughing stock under their watch. If it hadn't been behind-the-back passed on, New Zealand could have lost the event all together.

The issue with the Sevens as they were in Wellington, where some of the teams had more support staff than fans and where empty yellow seats dominated the television background, was that they just weren't fun anymore. They used to be, but that was bashed out of it by the fun police and their sensible batons.

But the hangover lasted longer than that of patrons. No-one wants to go to an event that used to be good. So fewer and fewer did.

A few that couldn't drink responsibly, the fun police, higher prices and more restrictions around drinking gave a premature death to an event that was never immortal anyway. These things always have a life-span.

For those of us lucky enough to attend the Sevens in its pomp, we'll blame the lack of a party and the need to make it more family-friendly, but that's not the whole truth.

You can only go to the same party a certain amount of times before it gets, well, "meh".

Kellie Clarke and Leah Fitzpatrick

Punters at the 2015 Sevens Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Feeling like the organisers were trying to suck every last cent out of you - seriously, a surcharge on Waitangi Day when you're already paying 3 x market prices for below average food and drink anyway - while also putting more restrictions on you, isn't actually that appealing.

So the party, party, party tournament wasn't going to keep working and the family-first approach surely didn't. Who seriously though a bunch of no-names playing a game none of us grew up with would be great family entertainment?

"Come along little Jimmy, we're going to spend three days' wages to watch Sevens legends DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson."

"Who, Daddy?"

A future with cow bells

So what does Hamilton do?

They've already invested heavily in a lemon with the V8 Supercars and their ratepayers were forced to foot the bill.

The author in a Mexican outfit at a previous Sevens.

The author at a previous Sevens Photo: Supplied

They've done more research this time and only signed up for a couple of years and aren't underwriting it, but what sort of event they run will be of more interest to me than whether or not South Africa beat Fiji in the final.

It has to be different, it has to be accessible, it has to be fun and, if it's clever, it will cater to a wider spectrum of punters.

Have a boozy area where people like me can dress as a Mexican with mates Lime, Salt and Tequila alongside. Put a focus on personal responsibility because that works better than a bunch of heavies in high-vis giving you stink eye for two days.

Have a family area where the players are encouraged to sign autographs for the kids and the entertainment is appropriate.

Have decent live music, have decent food and decent beer and wine.

Think outside the square a little bit and mix the professional games with kids' games. If you had eight teams of 10 kids (reserves too) turn up, there's already a lot of parents and grandparents who'd want to be there.

Hamilton have surely employed people more clever than I to come up with a dozen ideas. Hey, just go back to the archives and listen to talkback after the last event in Wellington, there were ideas for days.

Just don't do the same old thing and expect a different result.

Good luck to Hamilton

There will no doubt be a bump for next year's event regardless of what is done. Waikato Stadium is one of New Zealand's best grounds to watch footy in. You're close to the ground and you're close to town after.

Also helping is the fact more than 2,000,000 people live within 90 minutes of Hamilton and a day-trip to Cow-town is more appealing - and cheaper - than forking out for flights and accommodation in Wellington

There will surely be an initial interest, but if it's not done superbly, promoted well, priced sensibly and policed properly, that will wane after year one.

So maybe it becomes a moving feast; Hamilton one year, Dunedin the next. Why not move it around, we've obviously got the stadia.

Good luck to Hamilton. If they get creative and do things better than Wellington (that's not hard), it could just work.

But if it's just a bunch of no-names playing sevens, this is a band-aid, not the kiss of life.

Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 11 years. He attributes his premature baldness to the stress of being a sports fan.

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