By Steven Hill
Last Saturday I went to the Phoenix game early so I could watch Team Wellington play the Wanderers in the ASB Premiership. It was a good game. The young Wanderers competed well against their unrestricted-age opponents. It convinced me that it’s a good concept and a good way of getting the best younger players to play, amongst and against, better players that they probably would just playing for their clubs in Winter.
Because I was at the Cake Tin for about four and a half hours I decided to break my boycott of the overpriced poor quality food and drinks. I can report back that nothing has changed since the last time I had something to eat there which was probably about four years ago. $5 for some tasteless chips, (I couldn’t even taste the salt on them), that virtually disappeared in my mouth as I bit into them. They vanished without a trace of texture, flavour, or anything else that my stomach might have noticed. I didn’t bother with the beer – no change to the outside of the bottle means no change to what’s inside.
But this is not a food and drink review blog is it Enzo?
I didn’t think so.
I could see that the crowd was pretty small and when the number was officially announced as 6,491, or something like that, I started to ponder on why so few came. It was a lovely calm sunny day – no excuse there for casual observers to stay home. Maybe 5:30pm on a Saturday overlapped with some people’s dinner. Mealtimes can be less flexible when you have children to feed.
Then I remembered all the nonsensical excuses that appeared on internet forums when Gareth Morgan slated Phoenix crowds and fans for not showing up to games and threatened to take the team elsewhere.
The food and drink at the stadium is horrible and expensive.
The stadium needs a roof because Wellington’s weather is so bad.
The team play unattractive football.
I can’t believe that people who call themselves fans would seriously use reasons like that for not going along to watch. If you are then you don’t really want to go in the first place. You’re just making excuses and blaming other things for your apathy and laziness.
Yes the food and drink is ghastly. Here’s a simple solution – don’t buy it. If you can’t sit and watch a game of football for two hours without having something to eat or drink then there’s something wrong with you. I know children are a different case but a good friend of mine occasionally brings his young son and daughter and always has a couple of small containers of snacks for them and that’s all they need. This is not breaking the stallholder-protectionist rules around bringing food and drink into the stadium either.
Why not make a night of it. Wait until after the game and choose from the fantastic array of food and drink available within thirty minutes walk from the stadium. What a fabulous location our stadium is in eh?
Adjusting to, and playing in, all weather conditions is a part of every outdoor sport. It creates variety in tactics and an opportunity for one team to maximise strengths and take advantage of the other team’s possible weaknesses. That’s one of the reasons why the standard format of a league in any sport is two rounds home and away. Long may Wellington’s (in)famous and glorious wind be one of our best home advantages. If it’s a bit cold then put on an extra layer of clothing. Besides, the construction of the Cake Tin means that it would cost more to put a roof on that it would to demolish it and build a new one with a roof. Forget about it. It’s not going to happen.
I have a bit of sympathy for the unattractive football accusation. Perhaps the last couple of seasons we haven’t concentrated on possession and passing so much but this year I think we are playing pretty good football but the luck hasn’t been with us. The entertainment of sport is in watching a competition between two individuals or teams where their strength, agility, speed, hand-eye coordination, athletic ability, physical fitness, mental concentration is tested against each other based around a standard framework of rules. Some sports require more of one than another but all require a combination of all to a greater or lesser degree. Therein lies the beauty of all sport. Tactics, team selection, weather conditions all combine together on the day to test one against another. That is the entertainment. Every game is different. That is why I love sport. That is why I loved playing when I was younger and why I love watching now. Go read Enzo’s blog about ‘Why Soccer Doesn’t Suck’ if you want more reasons to find entertainment in any standard or style of sporting competition.
So why are crowds dwindling here while they’re booming in Australia? What are the differences. There’s an old joke in Australia that when you travel to new Zealand you put your watch forward two hours and back twenty years. After seeing that some promotional posters for Phoenix home games had been defaced to say “homo games” perhaps that’s still true. If you want a good read about a young white Australian’s experience playing football in 70’s Australia check out ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters’ by Johnny Warren.
If we want the Phoenix to survive, and every single football fan in New Zealand desperately wants them to survive and knows that it is essential for the progress of the sport here, then we need bigger crowds to make them sustainable. Welnix are not rich passionate fans who will be content to write the cheques forever. If I had the money I would bankroll them but I’d also be trying to increase the fan base too.
So what could we change to try and encourage more people to the games? We have the diehard core of 5,000 or so fans who come to every game. We are the converted to whom I am preaching. We need the fair weather friends, the casual observers, the mildly interested, the ones that if we show them the product they can be converted too.
What are the options? Clean out the current caterers and upgrade the food and drink facilities at the stadium. Actually there are a couple of new bars being built in the concourse so maybe things are on the improve there.
Cheaper tickets. My hunch is it wouldn’t make much difference. We could pay a market research company alot of money to come to the same conclusion.
Scheduling of the games. Midweek games weren’t very popular when we had them. They averaged smaller crowds that weekends. I think a mix is the answer. Some Friday nights for workmates to get together to make a night of it. Some weekend afternoons for families. Then the casual fans can pick the times that suit them without committing to a whole season.
Do we need a marquee player? It’s not a concept I’m a great fan of. I’m a purist. I like to watch the game and not be sold on star quality. It seems to be working well in Australia though. I’ve enjoyed watching Alessandro Del Piero’s breathtaking skills at times. It also worked incredibly well in the early days of MLS in the US. Look at the standard of MLS now and how good the US national team is.
Australia has derbys which certainly helps. A second New Zealand team, especially one from Auckland, would make for a great derby but that would only be one or two games a season. Australia won’t help us get a second team in so it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
A winning team would be a guaranteed fix. Our run to the semi finals a few years ago was fantastic with one sell-out crowd. Like I said before, sport is about the competition between teams and individuals but it’s also about winning. The hard part is making it happen because for every winner in sport there has to be a loser.
I have one other pet hate that I think is worth mentioning and that’s the half time entertainment? Just like I can sit for a couple of hours without eating or drinking I can also manage fifteen minutes of nothing. It’s a good chance to discuss the game with my friends. I’d love to get rid of the cringingly embarrassing half time “entertainment” we have at the moment. It’s usually so awful that I have to go out into the concourse to avoid it. It’s nothing more than promotion for a radio station that specialises in playing the same songs from twenty plus years ago over and over again. (What was that Australian joke again?) Anything new would be a risk with unpredictable audience reaction. That’s not a good brand association for a sports team.
Team Wellington play Waikato-Bay of Plenty before the Phoenix this week. I’ll make some sandwiches.
[Steven Hill is a Wellington based Arsenal fan and Wellington Phoenix season ticket holder. He’s also my uncle, which probably explains the congenital Roma sympathies 🙂]
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.