Hawke’s Bay Today has really been pushing support for the All Blacks versus Argentina game to be held at McLean Park on 6 September and who can blame them – There are still around two thousand tickets to sell and this will be only the second ever time the All Blacks have played in Napier. The other time was against Samoa in 1996.
The last time the All Blacks played in Napier all those years ago I went along to watch them practice (I watched the game at home on television). I asked a rather ragged-looking Andrew Merthens how he was going. His reply burned itself into my memory: “I feel like my guts are about to come flying out my arsehole!” Charming! He’s still one of my favourite All Blacks of all time, although some of that may just have to do with the fact his name is “Andrew” (for the record, I never cared much for similarly named All Blacks Dalton or Hayden).
The only rugby game I have seen in person involving the silver fern was the New Zealand Maori vs England at McLean Park in 2010.
I remember it was a freezing-cold June night on the way to the park, but the several thousand fans inside, the atmosphere was superbly warm and friendly.
What attracted my wife and I to attend wasn’t actually the game itself. We went along because there was going to be a 200-strong Ngāti Kahungunu haka performed before the game. It. Was. AWESOME!
Not content to just watch, a number of the fans on the embankment where we were joined in. The sound was amazing. You could feel the Mana in the air – It was very moving. Then the NZ Maori team performed their traditional pre-game haka. It was the first time I had ever been present for such a spectacle. Once again it was very moving, shiver up the spine experience – a true war cry.
I can’t remember much about the actual game, other than the New Zealand side ran rings around the English (as we knew they would), after both teams wasted a quarter of the game kicking and chasing. But the two haka at the start of the game alone were worth far in excess of the $30 ticket price.
I would love to go to next month’s match. But the main thing stopping me, and I dare say many others, is the ticket price: $70 for an uncovered stand ticket and upwards of $110 for a semi-covered seat. That price is for both adults and children.
Yup, your three year old son or daughter experiencing their first All Blacks game in person will cost the same as your ticket. That’s pretty rough.
There had been children’s tickets available for around $50, but it appears they have sold out. Meaning a Mum, Dad and two kids, who would have paid around $240 (that’s a week’s rent or groceries, give or take), could now have to fork out between $280 and $440.
To invert the lyrics of the Jessie J song, “It’s all about the money, money, money….”
And that sucks.
Now, the hefty price-tag isn’t the fault of McLean Park, or the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union, or even the local paper. It’s the NZRFU who set the prices.
It feels like a very long time ago that pulling on the black jersey with the silver fern used to be a mainly amateur endeavour. You played for pride and for country. But somewhere along the way money got involved. Lots and lots of money.
Gone are the days where you could watch the All Blacks play England or Australia at Athletic Park in Wellington (I’m showing my age there) on free-to-air TVNZ on a Sunday afternoon before tea time and the six o’clock news. Television rights were the first to go – sold off to Sky TV at a minimum cost to you, the viewer, of $50 per month. Next the New Zealand-made “Canterbury” All Blacks jersey lost its contract as German clothing giant Adidas got clothing rights. It was all down-hill and mark-up from there as more and more sponsorship deals were signed.
These days the (AIG, Adidas, Powerade, Ford, Steinlager, Air New Zealand, Sky TV, Rexona, Sanitarium, etc., etc., etc.) All Blacks are far more a business and brand than a sporting team.
And it’s not just us – professionalism has overtaken the wide world of sport – astonishingly high ticket prices and a new replica uniform plastered with sponsors to buy (you’d think you’d get a discount for all the free advertising you’re doing for them by wearing it) every season to show you are a “true supporter” is sadly the way things are all over the globe. It just goes on and on and on, as prices go up and up and up.
But what makes it worse in New Zealand is how we appear to have sold out so big, so relatively cheaply, so easily, so often.
Just look at the All Blacks’ and NZ Cricket’s (“Black Caps” was a 90s branding idea and I still honestly cringe thinking of the term) playing kits.
What has pride of place? The silver fern – New Zealand’s sporting symbol?
AIG, American International Group, an international insurance company are far more central, larger and clearer on the All Blacks’ uniforms, and ANZ, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (sure, we are in the title, but recent financial events have proven the company is well and truly driven from Australia) on New Zealand Cricket’s men’s international playing strips.
By comparison look at the American NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL leagues – The most “professional”, most monied sports in the world.
Millions and MILLIONS on dollars are spent on individual players, never mind entire teams, with individual sponsorships and endorsements paying HUGE money – LeBron James has a deal with Nike worth $1Billion – that’s insane!
Yet for each of those leagues and their (b/)millionaire players: The playing strip is a scared bit of advertising-free space!
The team logo takes pride of place, and the clothes’ manufacturer’s logo is small and modest in the same place it is on regular clothes.
You won’t see Coke, or Fox News in the middle of the playing jersey for the LA Lakers, the New York Yankees, New England Patriots, or the Detroit Red Wings. and these teams, like the All Blacks and New Zealand Cricket team, are some of the most admired and watched teams in the world.
Wouldn’t it be magnificent if the maximum number of Hawke’s Bay people possible could attend their first All Blacks game and get that chill down their spine and feeling of pride when the All Blacks launch into “Ka Mate” or “Kapa O Pango”?
After all, the All Blacks are supposed to be more about Mana than money, right?