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Ground Control

The ASB Premiership season is here and and it’s the last of it’s kind. Well, that’s not quite true as, after 11 years, the NZ Football review has laid out a pathway to develop the league structure. Unlike past attempts, excellently covered in Bruce Holloway’s ‘The National League Debates’, NZF aren’t going to rip it all up and start again. Instead they’re going to expand the league to ten teams and extend the season to run between July and March.

As part of this, the 2015-16 season will be televised on Sky. NZF would like the deal to extend into the 2016-17 ten team season, through to the proposed 2018-19 ten team, thirty game season. However, to do that they need ‘stakeholders’ to watch the televised games. That’s us, isn’t it? Another aim of the review is to get attendances to average over 1000 in quality venues. This season, those quality venues include North Harbour, the Waikato Stadium and Mt Smart Stadium. Which brings to the fore the problem of size.

North Harbour, 25,000. Waikato Stadium, 25,800, Mt Smart, 30,000. The proposed grounds are huge. They’ve got all of the requirements for televising games, but are huge caverns for the smattering of crowds that attend ASB Premiership matches. And part of watching a televised game is the atmosphere, the interaction between the crowd and the players. The roaring on of a team, the players celebrating in front of their fans, the deathly silence when the away team scores. If a game is accompanied mostly by silence, then the experience for the viewer is reduced. The next time you’re watching football on TV, turn the sound off and watch it. Football on the television is as much about crowds as it is about football.

Speaking of crowds, going to a match where the people who do attend are spread out across a vast expanse of seating is bloody rubbish. I’m a Blues season ticket holder. Eden Park may rock when the ABs are playing a test but 40,000 empty seats can make a crowd of 10,000 seem like a distant shout carried on a breeze. Putting a crowd of hundreds into a stadium designed for thousands won’t produce that buzz that gets first time attendees telling their friends about the game and coming back.

Football is an underdog in New Zealand. Except it isn’t. Football has a huge grassroots participation in this country, it has more young people playing it than any other sport. And that can’t happen without football clubs, of which there are so many fine examples around the country. This blog covers so many games that it is clear football is alive and well as a participation sport.

But there’s competition. The dominance of the Premier League and Champions League as a brand mean that you’re more likely to see Manchester United, Barca and Chelsea shirts on the streets of Auckland. Football to those who don’t play, or don’t take their kids to play, is a TV show and a computer game. That’s one hell of an unfair contest, leaving the house to watch a game up against not leaving the house and watching TV. Particularly for the ASB Premiership franchises. So, what can be done? We’ll cover that tomorrow, in part two.

You can find me @mrduttonpeabody. Today’s post title comes from the very first words of…

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John Palethorpe

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