NZR hopes to improve fan relations after ‘taking fans for granted’

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New Zealand Rugby admits it needs to improve its relationship with supporters as they aim to increase crowd sizes at Super Rugby Pacific 2023.

While the sport in the country remains strong in terms of performance and talent, fans have begun to abandon the four franchises with dwindling attendance over the years.

Super Rugby Aotearoa briefly regained interest as action resumed after the break caused by the Covid pandemic, but it hasn’t reversed the trend.

Whilst Super Rugby Pacific is still a high quality competition on the player side and also bridges the gap to Test rugby, NZR are looking to step things up when it comes to fanbases.

Invest in fans

“I think if we’re really self-critical about Super Rugby,” said Chris Lendrum, New Zealand’s general manager of professional rugby and performance The All Blacks Podcast. “It’s been an amazing competition from a high performance perspective throughout its life, but collectively as rugby we haven’t invested in the fan and have probably taken the fan for granted a bit.

“We have a lot of work to catch up on, people are very insightful these days, we’re all short on time as you know so we have to put in a lot of work and now we’re ready to roll up our sleeves.

“We have a defined product, great competition, everything is in regional time zones, so if you want to watch all six games every weekend, you can.”

Covid has undoubtedly impacted the fan experience but, with restrictions lifted and competition far less likely to be hampered, the NZR can now turn its attention to fans.

Lendrum says Test rugby has been the main focus for the governing body, which has potentially led them to take their eyes off the ball when it comes to the people who ultimately decide the success of the game.

Not intentional

“I don’t think it was anything too intentional, nobody sets out to say ‘we want to eliminate the fans’,” he added.

“But we are very focused on performance and frankly there have been some benefits to that, internationally we have performed really well.

“All SANZAAR countries performed really well internationally during the duration of the competition, so we did some good stuff there, but we didn’t invest in bringing that competition to the fans.

“We have many of the best players in the world playing in this competition, in fact, you would now think that many of them will be playing in Super Rugby Aupiki, so there are more stories to uncover about those players as individuals and as teams that we can bring to the public.

“You can see that people want to engage and understand people’s individual stories, we have great color in the game, rugby in New Zealand, it’s a game for all New Zealanders, we get all types of people from all walks of life and backgrounds in our game and let’s really prove it.

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