Here’s a look at the way WXV worked out. Two issues are discussed here, Attendances and Venues
Sally Horrox, World Rugby’s director of women’s rugby, admitted that crowds need to grow, but is sure they will. Optimism is always an asset for a person in so responsible a position.
But she makes statements that ask as many questions as they answer. She says her committee will indulge in more long-term planning, and people will know more about it; they will have more advance notice. The question she leaves unanswered is why those matters weren’t already taken in hand. The operation was delayed by Covid-19, but the planning for it as well?.
Then we must wonder, if New Zealanders were not willing to turn out to watch five of the six top teams in the world, when and where will spectators come in goodly numbers?
The sixth team is of course the Black Ferns. For the final of the World Cup, the organisers had to pull out all the stops to ensure the 42,000 attendance at Eden Park.
With far less publicity given to WXV1 in Auckland, the Go Media Stadium was pitifully empty for the Black Ferns-Red Roses match, though far fuller than for the two preceding games. One local resident claims he knew nothing about it till it was too late.
One of the traditions of international sport is the emphasis on national performance, aka patriotism. Two national anthems are played before every game; a hand-held camera stares into the face of every player in turn. She responds by bawling out her anthem fortissimo (one exception: the Spanish anthem is not sung).
In this way national identity is placed before love of the sport. In a yet more extreme form, football fans show greater devotion to their club than to the game itself.
These and other factors deter people from coming to watch matches not involving the home team.
Horrox claimed she could see the appetite was there. We are left wondering where she was looking when she spotted it. A further claim was that between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators had attended WXV1 over a weekend. Why the very approximate total? Have the local authorities not offered the precise figures? The contrast between the Black Ferns’ matches and the others would reveal much about sports fans’ preferences.
Hand in hand with the difficulty of attracting spectators is the choice of venues. For the record they were:
WXV1: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin; Sky Stadium, Wellington; Go Media Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
WXV2: Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch; Athlone Sports Stadium, Cape Town WXV3: The Sevens Stadium, Dubai
Comments: 3 venues for Tier One; 2 venues for Tier Two; 1 venue for Tier Three: any significance?
Why choose a country (Dubai) that has no visible interest or participation in 15s rugby?
Of the other two, only New Zealand has a history of attracting far more than ‘family and friends’ or ‘two men and a dog’.
It seemed a huge pity that so devoted a servant of the game as Danie Craven had his eponymous arena only sparsely populated.
How much local publicity was given to the 27 matches?
The organisers decided that the stadiums chosen should fit the high aims of the WXV concept. Quite right. But that still left a striking difference between the grass banking in Dubai and the vast covered space in Dunedin. WXV were hiding an unpalatable truth when they reported: ‘Around 500 junior female athletes flocked to Dunedin last week’. Inviting youngsters along to a big match is always a good idea. But this posting hid the bitter truth about the swathe of empty terraces that Marlie Packer was brave enough to describe as disappointing.
Were the chosen venues a case of ‘Some shall be more equal than others’?
We need constantly to remind ourselves that WXV is an annual event. So next year three more nations will have to be found able and willing to host 540 players and all their attendants. After seeing the difficulties three countries faced in 2023, will they be putting their names forward for consideration?
As things stand at present, only the members of the Six Nations are consistently breaking attendance records. And of those, only two aim to reach five figures.
TV companies don’t appreciate their cameras staring into serried ranks of plastic seating.
All the comments above are based on the assumption that the organising committee will offer the same structures in the future.
They will be analysing every aspect of the recent tournament with a microscope, to see if any adjustments are needed.