1 Aug 2017

Stadium not to blame for rugby punters staying at home

5:48 pm on 1 August 2017

Opinion - Trying to find the one reason why people aren't going to Super Rugby games is like trying to find the one thing wrong with Donald Trump. How long have you got? asks Matt Richens

The Crusaders play Western Force in front of half-empty bleachers at AMI Stadium in March this year

The Crusaders play Western Force in front of half-empty bleachers at AMI Stadium in March this year Photo: Photosport NZ

There is no quick fix, but equally there's no number one villain or reason either.

The Crusaders' AMI Stadium has copped plenty of flack this week since Saturday's semifinal win over the Chiefs was played in front of a Christchurch crowd.

The diehards were there on a cool but dry night, but the 50-50 crowd stayed away.

It's not the stadium's fault and it's not the weather's fault and throwing 100 percent of the blame at either of those reasons is short sighted and, in the case of the stadium, probably agenda-driven.

Most of us here in Christchurch want a new stadium and taking potshots at our Meccano Marquee is being used as a way of trying to highlight the need.

There is a need, but it's not even near being started. That adds to the frustration and apathy for us, in my opinion.

If we knew we only had a year or two to wait, we could put up with Stadium Scaffold, but there's no light at the end of the tunnel and what we have - though it's done a great job - is starting to wear thin.

We deserve better and our patience is running out.

Bryn Hall of the Crusaders runs in to score his try.

Bryn Hall of the Crusaders runs in to score his try. Photo: PhotoSport

A new covered stadium would be better supported, but a roof is not a golden ticket. It doesn't fix everything. People will flock to a covered Dan Carter Stadium (more likely *insert bank's name here* Stadium) initially because it's new.

But realistically, there are a heap of reasons people aren't going to the rugby and if the decision makers want to focus on just one or two, they'll miss the point and won't be able to fix the greater issue.

What is the issue? I'm glad you asked. The 50-50 fan is crucial for a start. The 50-50 fan is the fan who doesn't go to every game, but picks and chooses for whatever reason.

The marketers don't need to worry so much about the diehards because they'll go whenever they can and they're there purely for the footy.

The 50-50 normally wants the experience of being there live and poor weather doesn't help that.

Neither do overpriced food and drink, a lack of atmosphere or the fact that the game-day experience can often pale in comparison to watching it at home in the warm with your own food, drink and a more comfortable seat.

That's exactly what I did on Saturday and I'm not ashamed of it at all. I knew it was going to be cold and having been to three games this season, I opted for the cheaper, warmer option.

I enjoy watching it on TV more and I doubt I'm alone. You miss a lot at the game and despite the big screens, you still get a far better view at home.

What going to the game should have over my couch potato option is atmosphere. But does it?

We're not great fans when it comes to atmosphere. I'm not one to tell you how to support your team, but concentrating intently and occasionally screaming out "Get 'em onside ref" isn't conducive to an electric sense of occasion.

What would work better is day rugby, but that's not going to happen. Money matters and the money is in night footy.

But the chief executives can't bemoan the fact people aren't turning up to the ground when the competition is aimed at television viewers who pay the bills and indirectly the players and bosses as well.

There is no quick-fix or minds much smarter than mine would have come up with them already, but there are a couple of things worth trying:

  • Make the tickets even cheaper. They're not overly expensive now but if you're so concerned about bums on seats, cut the price. TV viewers pay for the game anyway, money from tickets is just gravy.
  • Give more tickets away to children. This happens plenty, but children bring parents so the more the better.
  • Let people bring their own food in. Sure there are contractors at the ground who need to be appeased, but allowing people to bring more of their own food in would make it more appealing for families.
  • Failing that, give everyone a $5 food/drink voucher with their ticket.
  • Play more curtain raisers. Obviously it's tough at this time of year with a wet ground being churned up, but two schools up against each other would bring in more people as that competition is well supported.

If there was an easy fix, it would have been done, but don't heap all the blame on a stadium built in 100 days or blame the weather. It's a winter sport after all and this is a problem not unique to Christchurch or New Zealand.

*Matt Richens has been a sport journalist for more than a decade and is as one-eyed as they come. He used to eat Canterbury toast (marmite on one side, raspberry jam on the other) and still knows all the words to "Give it a Boot Robbie".

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