It is a fact that some sports will never be able to compete with their rivals. Large television deals, established competitions, regular media coverage, and a rich history are just some of the reasons why some sports find it hard to muscle in on what are often referred to as “mainstream” or “established” sports in Australia.
It does not take a rocket scientist to work out which sports are the “established” and “mainstream” sports. In the main they are Cricket and Australian Rules Football. Rugby Union and Rugby League, depending on which state you live in would also feature, and so too the purest form of Football.
In some cities you will find that media coverage is given to sports that are not deemed a threat to AFL; in other words sports played in venues smaller than the stadia used for AFL. Sports such as Basketball and Netball are examples of this, as they are not deemed a threat to AFL.
Last weekend one of the most successful men’s national teams, the Kookaburras, currently ranked number one in the world took on the European Champions, and fourth ranked Netherlands in Narrogin, just over two hours south east of Perth.
The game was well attended as hockey fans from outlying areas converged on Narrogin to see two of the best teams in the World. The hockey was of an outstanding quality and the atmosphere was fantastic. Was there ten thousand attending? No, there wasn’t but everyone there was a hockey fan. All the children could see these stars up close, and the players stayed on the pitch for at least half an hour after the games signing autographs. It was the way sport used to be in the towns and cities across the world.
It was interesting to hear the Kookaburras Captain Mark Knowles state that the sport should not try and compete in the major metropoles, but focus on the regional areas. Seeing first hand the games in Narrogin it was hard to argue against such an idea. It will certainly be interesting to see not only the size of the crowd at the Perth Hockey Stadium on Thursday and Saturday when the last two tests in the four test series are played. Will there be the same atmosphere?
One interesting aspect to take into account especially when it comes to the Kookaburras is how many of their squad are in fact from regional areas.
A squad of 26 was named for the Test Series and 12 of the squad come from regional areas. That is not counting one player from Darwin, and a further three from Tasmania; which some may try and classify as regional!
If we look at the team that went to the Rio Olympics 10 of the 16 players selected came from regional Australia.
So should a sport like Hockey, that struggles to get media coverage unless it is the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games, seriously look at taking their international games to regional areas where they have strength?
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has said that their new Pro League due to be launched in January 2019 will see the Hockey “become a professional sport, making it a career choice for athletes who will be given the opportunity to perform in big, bold, packed and loud venues both in their homeland and overseas.” Are the city venues really going to pull in “big, bold, packed and loud crowds?” In some cases one would have to say that the venues are too big to allow this. To fill these stadia major dollars will need to be spent on marketing the games.
We have already seen with the Hyundai A-League that playing in large state-of-the-art venues is one thing, but if there is no crowd it looks awful on television, which makes fans considering attending games stay away. There is also next to no atmosphere. Hockey should learn from this and look to play Australia’s games in smaller tighter venues where the crowd is close to the action, and where they stand a chance of filling the venue and creating an atmosphere that makes people want to be a part of the sport.
The catch here is they need the bigger crowds to offset the costs of being in the competition, and having to pay the players full time wages. Hence why each state is currently being asked to foot the bill if they wish to host Pro-League games. None of the state bodies have the sort of money required to host such games sitting in their bank accounts, so they are going to have to go and raise funds. One of their first stops will be the State Government. No doubt many will see some merit in supporting such a venture and the chance of attracting Worldwide exposure with all the Pro-League games being televised, but are they going to put their hand in their pockets every year to fund such games?
Hosting sporting events is no cheap exercise in the modern day. There are so many hidden costs, such as security, making sure everything at the venue complies with Health and Safety standards, insurance for the paying customers, marketing the event, etcetera. For these reasons sometimes smaller is indeed better.
Rather than trying to convert people in the city areas would it not be better to take the game to those who are already fans? The State Associations could even look at putting on buses for the city fans to ferry them to the regional areas for games. This would help form a link between city and Country. A Premier League game could be played prior to a Pro League game as a curtain raiser, or as we saw at the weekend in Narrogin with the juniors, we could see a Country v City contest played.
The Pro-League is going to be challenging for those who have to plan the games in Australia for both the Kookaburras and the Hockeyroos. The distances within the country will be a major issue, and to add on travel to the country areas may not sound appealing, but if it delivers “bold, packed and loud venues,” then it should be considered, especially if games are taken to the centres from which the current squad originate. Who knows, playing in the country areas may also be an advantage to the home teams, and in such a long competition against the cream of World Hockey, it could be a telling advantage come the end of the tournament.
Certainly going regional to gain a stronger foothold for the sport has a great deal of merit.