There have been quite a few opinion pieces recently about the decline in interest for rugby. I’ve even written some. But I’m not sure that the authors (including me) were quite right. From what I can tell rugby fans’ attitudes are changing but their (our) enthusiasm is not dropping.
Rugby has become a product. We watch it on television more than we play it; at least at a representative level. Come summertime, we’re just as likely to play a game of backyard touch as we are to play backyard football. It’s a strange disconnect for us.
Gone are the days of the international rugby star that has to make sure the farm will be looked after while he’s on tour. Or the player who drives trucks during the week and wins the Ranfurly Shield on the weekend.
This is why we still hold onto icons like Colin Meads and George Nepia; it‘s why we hold up signs that say “Bring Back Buck”; these things speak to our heritage. Then we look at what we have today, players who seem to want to leave us to chase “the dollar”; and we do feel as though they are leaving us (“Please come back Dan!”).
This contributes to an unspoken feeling that our players are no longer legends just good rugby players (which is possibly a good thing perspective-wise), but we so desperately want them to be legends that our pride feels dented. We then see these same players paraded before us in the media as though they actually are the legends we just realised they weren’t. Which is what makes seeing people with face paint, dressed in black, waving flags seem hollow.
But has our interest for rugby declined? Like fuck it has!
Just have a look at these articles:
There’s no interest lost there. The fact that every sports pundit in the country seems to be concerned about the future of our national sport again shows that we are still very much interested in rugby (and by we I mean, those who follow sport, not “the nation as some would have you believe. I’m a realist).
But our interest seems to in it as a product, as entertainment. Our level of personal investment in the game has lessened since the professional era began but our interest in the game stayed about the same.
Hence any strategy to reclaim fans to the game shouldn’t be about making the game more “interesting” or “easier to watch” (which is why the ELVs should fail) as what entertains us changes constantly (think sitcoms). Any action should be squarely aimed at making us (the aforementioned fans) personally involved again. We need a strategy to change our interest from entertainment level to something deeper.
I have many ideas on how to do this (tours) and I imagine others do too, but that’s for another time (or perhaps the comments).
Hadyn Green and his mates provide blogging and a regular podcast about sport at http://www.dropkicks.co.nz/