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Aisle be Back: The season opener in Perth

Above: Billy Proctor (left) is playing his 50th match for the Hurricanes against the Force, while Jordi Viljoen (centre) is paying his first.

  • By Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy is a long-time supporter of the Wellington Lions, the Hurricanes and the All Blacks. Like many, he has traversed the highs, the lows and the places in between, as a fan at Wellington Stadium and its predecessor Athletic Park. Kevin’s column comes to Club Rugby every Friday during the season.

How are we all feeling heading into the new season? Super, I trust.

Sometimes it feels the season ends about November, and then about two weeks later, the pre-season begins.

Super Rugby is already tracking to record some of its best attendance numbers for ages – albeit the bums were on seats in Munster, and Japan, by and large, as several sides went flyabout for their pre-tournament build-ups

The Melbourne Rebels were already turning in a cliff-hanger performance – will they sell tickets, won’t they? If not for round one, what about the fizzer of the round-of-all-teams set down for later in the year.

None of the above suggests other than administrators will have an uphill task trying to in their words, re-engage fans with what used to be a tournament that drew big crowds.

Re-engage is just the sort of clinical phrase beloved of marketers, as they seek to enhance the fan experience. In plain English, how do we get people liking Super Rugby again.

From what we can so far see, such re-engagement doesn’t extend to being too fazed if people go to games in person.

For example, Sky News through its free to air channel is going to screen more games in (almost) real time.  Apparently, it’s seen the success of cricket since the sport defaulted to free to air coverage last year in driving overall viewing.

There’s a good logic to that, although one fears a lot of the games will be the mongrels of the round.  But more eyeballs mean a lot to advertisers presumably when broadcast deals come around.

Then again, how many more empty seats will be seen in the background of games because people just opt to stay home.

That’s also a bad look.

To be fair, the new commission tasked with running Super Rugby Pacific has barely got underway, with its stated focus on the fans. The question would seem to be are those the fans who brave the elements to watch games live, and help deliver the atmos. Or the ones who boost TV ratings.

On which note, the lovely advertising campaign with rugby players diving through the oceans could be unfortunately ambiguous – are they waving or drowning.

Still, as always, we will soon be able to watch some actual rugby, starting tonight with a cracking rematch of the Chiefs – Crusaders final, and the Hurricanes starting the long trek, well, with a long trek to Perth.

Hopefully we’ll soon be focussing on some of the interesting stuff. For the Canes, as always, the season looks promising – with a ton of backline talent. But can the forward pack do the job without the finest player in the world in 2023?

Can the new coach find his feet?

Can the Canes get out of the blocks smoothly, as they should?

And if they do – will we still be watching them.

That all starts at midnight tonight our time when the season opener against the Force kicks off.

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