Super Rugby Pacific: NZR hoping to improve supporter relations after ‘taking fans for granted’

New Zealand Rugby admits that they need to improve their relationship with supporters as they aim to increase the crowd size in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific.

While the sport in the country remains strong from a performance and talent perspective, the fans have started to desert the four franchises with attendances dwindling over the years.

Super Rugby Aotearoa briefly recaptured the interest when action resumed following the break caused by the Covid pandemic, but it did not buck the trend.

Although Super Rugby Pacific is still a high-quality competition on the playing side and also bridges the gap to Test rugby, the NZR are seeking to improve matters when it comes to the fanbase.

Investing in the supporters

“I think if we’re really self-critical about Super Rugby,” NZR’s general manager of professional rugby and performance, Chris Lendrum, told The All Blacks podcast. “It’s been an amazing competition from a high-performance perspective for its entire lifespan, but we haven’t collectively as rugby invested in the fan, and we’ve probably taken the fan for granted a little bit.

“We’ve got a lot of catch-up work to do, people are very discerning these days, we’re all time-poor as you know so we’ve got a lot of effort to put in there, and we’re now ready to roll up our sleeves.

“We’ve got a definite product, a great competition, everything’s in regional timezones, so if you want to watch all six games every weekend, then you can.”

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Covid no doubt had an impact on the supporter experience but, with restrictions lifted and the competition far less likely to be hampered, NZR can now turn their attention to the fans.

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

Not intentional

“I don’t think it’s been anything too intentional, nobody sets out saying ‘we want to cut the fans out’,” he added.

“But we’re very focused on performance, and frankly, there’s been some advantages to that, at the international level we’ve performed really well.

“All the SANZAAR countries have performed really well internationally in the lifetime of the competition, so we’ve done some good stuff there, but we just haven’t invested in bringing that competition to the fan.

“We’ve got a lot of the world’s best players playing in this competition, in fact, you’d argue now that a lot of them are going to play in Super Rugby Aupiki, so there’s more stories to unpack of those players as individuals and as teams that we can take to the public.

“You can see people want to engage and understand people’s individual stories, we’ve got great colour in the game, in rugby in New Zealand, it is a game for all New Zealanders, we get all types of people from all walks of life and background into our game and let’s really show that.”