Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The problem with rugby

The discussions of the last few days relate to the crowd sizes at rugby games which are down on previous seasons. I am not surprised at all. I think that there are good reasons for the decline in interest in many urban centres
1. The Stop Start Nature of the Game: The scrums continually collapse. The break down is a constant disaster. Time is continually wasted with line outs, scrum resets, discussions between the ref and players, TMO decisions, discussions between refs and lines men, injuries upon injuries. The game must be sped up with far less time spent fluffing around with line out calls, injuries etc.
2. The Congestion of the Game: Rugby players are faster, fitter, stronger and able to last longer with contemporary fitness models. Yet the fields are the same size, the number of players the same, and the game is a 22 man game rather than a 15 man game. The game used to break open due to fatigue but can not do so with two even fit teams. The fields could be enlargened, the number of players reduced or the replacement rules changed to ensure that the game breaks open.
3. Other Options: There are now a lot of other things for people to do and games to play. Rugby does not hold exclusive pride of place. There are any number of sports from soccer, to lacrosse, to dancing etc. Not to mention that many people live a sedentary life anyway and don't play anything.
4. Life's busyness: Life is incredibly busy now and time is precious. One does what one has to do and to heck with the rest. Rugby is one of those options for discretionary time and it is quite a hassle to get there what with traffic, walking there, queuing etc.
5. TV Coverage: Why go to a game when you are incredibly busy when you can hit a switch and watch it live with replays, the fridge handy, in the warmth of the house etc? While it is not the same as live, in terms of time it is often a better use of the time to take the time to watch the game without all the extras around it. I mean one has to leave at 5ish to watch a 7.30 game and then is not home until 10ish.
6. Cost: it is rather expensive to go to a game especially if there are a few of you and you want to watch from the stand. Watching the game on TV for the rugby addict involves the purchase of Sky already and then throw in the cost of watching the game with a drink and something to eat thrown in and it all adds up!
7. A loss of traditional affiliations and season length etc: the development of professional rugby has led to a season that runs from Feb-Nov with followers of the game moving from Super 14, to club, to All Blacks to provincial affiliation. It all gets confusing. Regions do not capture the imagination as much as provinces. Then there is the shift back to provinces. It would be better to have one long good provincial competition and internationals rather than shifting from one to the other (go the NRL way etc). Through these constant changes the NZRFU and SANZAR organisations have torn the heart out of NZ traditional rugby allegiances.
8. The lost of top players overseas: the erosion of NZ talent is sad as the cream of NZ's players are going overseas leaving the NPC as a second rate competition in the shadow of the Super 14 and internationals.
9. Boredom at the same old same old: each year it is the Tri Nations, NZ, SA and Aus. When we get an international team here from Europe it is normally second rate. We need France A, Lions, England especially here on tours. We need SA and Aussie touring and playing the traditional rivals of provinces. We need to have the tri-Nations every two years and not in world cup year. We need tours!
10. Global sporting options: We are spoiled for choice now. We can follow league, rugby, soccer, baseball, grid iron, cricket, basketball etc here and overseas. There are vocational opportunities all over the world through USA colleges etc. The world has changed. Rugby does not dominate anymore and never will again. There are swags of other sports like hockey, triathlon, athletics, swimming etc for people to try out. It is now culturally OK to play anything unlike the earlier days when rugby was the only 'real sport'.
11. Constant law changes: while rugby wants to sort its act out it tries new rules every year or five. Compare that to soccer which has the same game now and for years. We need to settle on the game we want it to be and LEAVE it. Let is go through the ebs and flows. It needs to be radically simplified and LEFT.

When one adds all the above up, then it is obvious why rugby is losing the battle for support. It is the way it is and we better get used to it. They can simplify the season, bring back allegiances, make the game flow and open up again and this will help. But it won't fix it all. It is a consumers world and the consumers will decide. Whatever, those who rule the sport better get a move on because a glorious new world awaits us rugby fans.

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