Andrew Gourdie: The change required to promote women's rugby

Opinion 26/08/2018
Photo: Photosport.

By Andrew Gourdie, RadioLIVE sport host.

OPINION: Big ups to New Zealand Rugby. Their heart's in the right place when it comes to trying to promote women's rugby.

Unfortunately though, a 'double-header' at Eden Park isn't the solution. This was a double-headerin name only, and a convenient way to get around calling the Black Ferns v Walleroos a curtain-raiser.

I get why they did it - you've got a captive rugby audience heading along to watch the All Blacks, give them a chance to watch the Black Ferns deal to the Aussies as well. Only trouble is that the majority of the 48,000 who bought tickets to head along to Eden Park were only ever going to watch one game. It's bad enough spending three hours in an uncomfortable seat at Eden Park drinking over-priced beer and eating over-priced food, let alone five if you're taking in two games of rugby. We end up with two proud teams playing in front of a handful of fans in a concrete jungle. That's not a good advertisement for the game.

Something needs to be done. The women's game deserves to stand alone. There's an obvious solution.

Turn the Women's Rugby World Cup into a biennial event.

Why is it held every four years? Well, because most world cups are held every four years aren't they? Men's rugby, cricket, football, the Olympic Games.

The trouble is all of those sports have events, competitions and trophies that are contested during the in-between years to keep fans following the game. They create a narrative that builds up to that special once-every-four-years event. Men's rugby has the Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup, Lions Tours and Northern Tours to keep fans going.

That's the trouble for women's rugby, particularly in this part of the world. New Zealand's interest in the 15 a-side game peaks only once every four years when we contest and, more often than not, win the Women's Rugby World Cup. There is little in the way of meaningful rugby in between to promote the women's 15s game.

In the northern hemisphere they at least have the Women's Six Nations, which puts the women's game in the shop window. But the southern hemisphere market is different, and the geographical challenges are obvious.

This is where World Rugby needs to step in. World Cups provide a great platform to promote the sport to the masses, where a high number of matches over a short time frame helps to offset venue and broadcast costs. Holding the tournament biennially wouldn't make the Women's World Cup any less special. It's still the obvious pinnacle of the sport.

You can't pull the wool over our eyes. Women's rugby shouldn't be a curtain-raiser - it deserves to be its own event. The main event. Just give us the main event more regularly, so that we have the opportunity to give it the attention it deserves.

Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport from 2pm.