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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The What's So Super 15 

News this week that the Super 14 is going to be completely overhauled and become the Super 15. OK, so maybe not really overhauled at all.

Apparently they are adding a team from Aussie and will move to a conference format where teams from each country play each other home and away while playing the teams from the other two countries once (5 home and 5 away). Bearing in mind we are still being kept in the dark here (this is standard practice by the NZRU who are about as open as the KGB) all that follows may be completely irrelevent, though in saying that there appears to be not much else they could do.

The up side to a conference system is more local derbies. In fact it would mean that 72% of all matches that a side plays will be in their home country compared to the current 62-70% (depends on number of home and away games). That will help TV ratings slightly as the games in SA are at times where nobody bothers to watch them and the same applies to games in OZ and NZ for them.

In terms of crowd numbers this year they look pretty awful. In NZ of the 33 matches I have figures for 29 of them though in a couple of cases they could be a bit off as the figures given were rounded off. The average has been 13,875 which is pretty horrific. Factoring the four crowds I don't have figures for (2 x Blues and 1 each for Crusaders and Highlanders) the average is probably in the low to mid 14,000s. Last year the average was 15,602. Compare that to 2002 when it was 22,862.

There are a few influences to look at here. The first is the recession. I think we have all realised that its not having much of an effect, perhaps it could be measured in the low hundreds. The NRL is averaging 17070 per match compared to 17260 after the same number of rounds as last year while the Warriors crowds are up.

The second thing that may be an influence is the start date of the Super 14. It is obviously too early for many to stomach with the theory that the crowds would pick up as the season went on. It's hard to measure precisely week to week because the number of games played in NZ is so variable. Most weeks there are 2 or 3 matches in NZ but in week 4 there were 4 while in weeks 2 and 12 there was only 1. That's another problem with this comp. Even when it's in the middle of the rugby season there are occasions when there is just one or two professional matches on NZ soil. It's a lot easier to hype something or follow it when there's actually something to go and watch.

Looking at the average from rounds 1 to 4 in NZ the crowd average was 11,181, rounds 5 to 9 it was 13,370 and from rounds 10-14 it was 19,458 (probably more like 18,000 if the missing crowd figures came in). The recent pickup can in a big part be put down to the Chiefs form with the sellout v the Hurricanes.

In Aussie the corresponding averages were 19,345, then 20,892 followed by 17,574. That would be a major concern across the ditch. The Aussie teams had pretty awful seasons which will explain the drop off but with there already being concerns about an extra team further diluting an already shallow player pool how many people will want to go watch a lower quality game?

In South Africa the averages were 34,766 early on, 23,296 through the middle and 24,574 towards the end though there are so many matches without crowd figures released (9 matches including 4 for the Lions who had fairly empty stadiums towards the end) that they aren't exactly robust.

So we have 3 different answers to the same question there. In NZ crowds clearly picked up, in Aussie they were relatively similar throughout while in South Africa they appear to have dropped somewhat. And I guess that would back up what NZ want (later season starts) and South Africa want (same start times or earlier).

The compromise apparently will see the comp start the first weekend of March.

and the final possible influence on crowd figures in NZ is the fact that Auckland and Christchurch are missing large parts of their grounds, most notably the best seats in the house. You'd guess that each venue would have attracted more folks along had half the season ticket holders not been turfed to the otherside of the ground which in turn moves other people or makes others not want to go as they are shifted to worse positions. Factor in the atmosphere which is obviously going to suffer and both sides could have seen crowds of 3 or 4 thousand more. Once the venues are complete they should be more attractive places to watch sport from and add to that Dunedin getting an enclosed stadium and things look fairly good for the rugby going public in NZ in those locations.

What was interesting to see though was the respective ticket prices in the 3 countries. Talk about economies of scale. In South Africa you can go watch a Super 14 for the same price that you'd buy a weekend newspaper in NZ ($1.89 for a Bulls ticket with the Sharks costing an absurdly expensive $8.51). The best seat in the house to the table topping Bulls game comes in at $20.80NZ. Whereas in Aussie the cheapest tickets will set you back the price of a couple dozen NZ beer or a couple of bottles of (cheapish) wine. For the Waratahs it's $24.87 for a cheap seat to watch a no frills side while a far corner nose bleeder for the Brumbies or Force will set you back a shocking $37.30 and if you want to sit with the rugby snobbery you're looking at an outrageous $80.88 for the Reds or Force.

In NZ the Blues could let you in for $12 if you took along a kid (preferably you're own and legally) while the cheapies elsewhere came in at $15 for the Chiefs, $20 for the Highlanders and Crusaders and $23 for the Hurricanes. The most expensive tickets would set you back $35 to $53.

I wonder what the crowds would be like if we adopted a SA approach and took 50-75% off our ticket prices. Surely they could look at doing something like that given much of their revenue comes from TV deals and marketing. And if grounds are getting soldout regularly you actually make people want to be part of it and either go along or make sure you are somewhere to watch it on the tellie?


Anyways, forgetting the crowds and looking back at the possible new format I've got a major concern with the playoff system. Obviously with 15 teams you need more sides in the playoffs to keep interest up. And from the sounds of it they are going to a 6 team playoff system. I'm assuming they will have separate points tables for each conference and the top 2 go through from each. This opens a massive can of worms. If you have 3 games in week 1 who plays who? You will have 3 top sides. If you take the two teams with the best record thats hardly fair given they wont have played the same teams the same number of times. The top Aussie side will always be at an advantage because they will be playing weaker opponents like the BOP Magic do in the trans tasman netball comp.

Having 3 separate pools may also means teams that are more like the 7th or 8th best teams in the comp go into the playoffs at the expense of others.

Whatever they come up with it will be flawed and cause much teeth nashing at the end of each season with situations worse than the current one where the Crusaders 8-1-4 beat the Waratahs 9-4 into the playoffs. Apparently bonus points are more important than winning.

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