If rugby is a business, then surely the North v South fixture is heading towards being dead on arrival.
It would’ve been some sight inside the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) headquarters on Monday afternoon during their last-ditch meeting to decide the fate of this unique North v South fixture.
With Government announcing that New Zealand will remain at Level 2 restrictions (thanks to the community reemergence of COVID-19) until at least September 6th, it seems that chances of a crowd being in attendance for this unique fixture are all but gone at this point.
Already NZR have had to re-jig the date of this glorified All Blacks trial to a week later than its original August 29 plan.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the first of the difficulties that must surely have left Ian Foster and his fellow All Black coaches wondering if their project is simply doomed to fail.
NZR were quickly denied special permission to have Auckland-based players and support staff travel to Wellington for a camp that was due to start this week and that was a major driver in the decision to postpone proceedings for a further week.
Hosting the fixture itself at Eden Park has always been the most desired outcome, given that it’s New Zealand’s premier national stadium, but it is somewhat disappointing that the option of taking this game out to the regions wasn’t high on the priority list.
Imagine the boost it would give to small but rich rugby communities in the South Island, such as Rugby Park in Invercargill or Trafalgar Square in Nelson.
As it turns out, none of that may matter now. Holding the North v South fixture at all has quickly become the hot talking point and was likely the highest matter on the agenda in the emergency meeting on Monday afternoon.
Remember that All Blacks coach Foster has already gone on record to state he isn’t in favour of the match going ahead with no fans.
But the real prospect for NZR to consider is, as always, it’s all about the dollars.
NZR stands to lose at least $1 million in potential revenue by going ahead and holding the match behind closed doors. Sky Television, the official broadcaster who themselves are also a major driver in this conversation, want NZR to proceed because it still gives them the ability to broadcast the match to fans who are certain to now be watching from their living rooms, and that in turns means the likelihood of big ratings.
That aside, there is simply no way NZR will get anywhere near the financial return so the challenge under consideration on Monday afternoon was about considering whether or not that will be worth it in a year of already considerable financial loss.
The success of Super Rugby Aotearoa hasn’t filled that gap, and with the kickoff of Mitre 10 Cup looming on September 11th, NZR would have to backtrack on their original assurance that North v South would not impede on the beginning of New Zealand’s premier provincial competition if they truly want a shot at holding the match with the possibility of crowds in attendance.
Speaking of Mitre 10 Cup, New Zealand’s top players are also tentatively penned in to suit up for their provinces for at least the first few rounds, something that provides a much-needed boost to the competition that has experienced beyond poor attendance in stadiums and average TV ratings since it transitioned into something of a second-fiddle to All Black tests which are traditionally held around the same time.
In an odd sort of way, it seems that NZR have to consider just how much brand All Blacks, and the potential pulling power of all things associated with it, matters over everything else with the decision they have to make about proceeding with this North v South clash.
That might not be what’s spoken, but certainly, that’s what will be implied if they try to push ahead with and play this fixture with no fans in the stands and seemingly no significant return on investment.
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