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Why All Black fans are about to 'hear a lot of the term fan-centric'

By Ned Lester
Mark Robinson, the CEO of New Zealand Rugby welcomes Scott Robertson as the new All Blacks coach. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby is promising a deep dive into what the fans want to see in international rugby, leading the charge into what it hopes will be a more exciting future for the game.

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Much has been made of match metrics such as ball-in-play time and the general entertainment value of the game in recent seasons, with efforts to speed up play and reduce stoppages filtering into various levels of the sport to mixed avail.

The Rugby World Cup saw the introduction of the bunker system with the aim of eliminating extended stoppages whilst officials decide on a relevant punishment for foul play amongst other rulings.

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The World Cup produced some of the greatest spectacles the sport has seen, but also some controversy.

“We saw some incredible rugby at the tournament and early on we saw, especially in southern France, some incredible scenes around fans being able to get close to teams,” New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson told media this week. “We saw some great footy and some significant upsets.

“It’s fair to say as the tournament grew there was fan frustration around some elements of the game. We are very interested to be part of the ongoing discussion that’s going to take place in the near future to look to address that.”

Onwards and upwards appears to be the motto for New Zealand Rugby, with a clear focus on alignment across the global game, with meetings early in the new year being held in Europe.

“We are very clear in New Zealand, and we believe in Australia, and we believe other parts of the world are starting to acknowledge that the fan has to be far more greatly considered in our consideration of what we’re going to do with the future state of the game.

“We will be looking at the challenge of making the game more fan-centric at the international level. There will be key meetings at the end of February in Europe between ourselves, our Sanzaar partners, the Six Nations and World Rugby and right at the heart of the conversation is how we look to continue to make sure we’re more consistently seeing the kind of rugby we believe all fans want to see.

”A number of key strands go into that work. We’ve got to have the right information so we’re clear on what fans want to see. How does that then impact on our laws? How can we support our match officials, and our players and coaches, to make sure the product can be truly spectacular and special so more and more fans around the world want to gravitate towards it?”

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Robinson pointed to Super Rugby Pacific as an example of positive steps being taken with the ratings to prove it’s success.

“If you look at Super Rugby Pacific [in 2023], we saw significant improvements in key stats around tempo, ball in play and match duration, resulting in a huge uplift in broadcast viewership and streaming numbers.

“That’s a key starting point. We now have a SRP Joint Venture which we think can take that sort of collaboration, innovation and creativity to a whole new level in the years to come. That Super Rugby commission interim board is meeting next week to carry on some of the work in this space as well.”

The DNA of rugby in New Zealand is notoriously dynamic and expansive, so there’s plenty of extra incentive to speed up the game and uphold that character, but that’s not so much the case in other regions.

The northern hemisphere traditionally boasts a more methodical and conservative DNA, although the recent form of France and Ireland have challenged that notion, playing at the forefront of the game’s evolution with generational attacking skillsets.

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But the conservative attitude is felt more potently off the field, and Robinson acknowledged the potential challenge of getting the northern unions on board with the initiative.

“We’ve got work to do to elevate the fan consideration and the conversation about the game,” he said. “We’ve also got to consider player welfare as part of that, but we think when fans become frustrated about the game it’s often because certain things happen either to slow it down or mean continuity and tempo and opportunities to see exciting spectacles are impacted upon.

“We all want the game to grow. Anyone in leadership of rugby has a fundamental obligation to want it to grow. If that’s our starting point, what are some things that have to happen at the professional level? That’s greater tempo, greater spectacles, less interventions, and helping to simplify the game where we can.

“I’m sure World Rugby will be open to that conversation, and other national unions will feed back into those conversations. We just hope fan consideration is elevated a lot.”

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