When New Zealand Football announced that games were going to be televised on Sky Sports last year, it was generally agreed that it was a good thing. Professional video footage of each game meant that instead of scores on a website, supporters of teams could see their side play in far off Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland or wherever – instead of checking final scores.
New Zealand Football Weekly was also a boon, giving us a window into the world of players. Jake Butler’s 200th appearance piece, the profiles of Aaron Clapham, Clayton Lewis and others – it added amplification to the game.
It did lead to some odd decisions, ones that were understandable in terms of broadcasting but mystifying for supporters. Auckland City played a game away to Waitakere at the QBE on a Sunday, then played a home game against Hawkes Bay at the QBE on the next Thursday.
For players with day jobs, the midweek game meant arranging holiday and release – for supporters, particularly in Auckland, it meant getting north of the Harbour Bridge on a weeknight. Like for the Premiership Grand Final, played on a Thursday night to a crowd of 1500 – about 10 times the average gate for the QBE during the regular season.
With the release of the newly sponsored Stirling Sports Premiership fixtures, it’s clear that Sky Sports and NZF have fixed up and looked sharply at last season and made significant changes.
First of all, there’s no Thursday games. That means fewer live games over a season, but more chance of the fixtures attracting supporters. All games will still be recorded and there’ll be a highlights packaged show.
Second, the QBE is used for the WeeNix curtain opener for the Phoenix’s game in March and then for the final. After the green sand problems last season, keeping the big ground for the games likely to pull a big crowd is just sensible.
Third, Saturdays. There are ten games being played on a Saturday afternoon this season, including one Semi-Final. Kickoffs range from 1pm – 4:35pm, but it will be interesting to see if having football on a Saturday is a bigger draw than the Sunday afternoon games – certainly gives a little leeway for those supporters wishing to enjoy a cold beverage of choice without work the next morning.
Fourth, ten teams. Welcome on board Eastern Suburbs (playing at Bill McKinlay, a ground steeped in NZFC history), Hamilton Wanderers and Tasman United. The extra games mean the season opens earlier, on October 16th and finishes with the Grand Final on April 2nd.
As a supporter it’s a marked improvement on last years scheduling, and it will be good to see the highlights of my Auckland City on the road for another year. Hopefully though, we can go one better than second place – but then I would say that, eh?
You can find the full draw, here.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.