If you live in New Zealand, you may have heard that one of the more storied unions in the country is currently in debt and is struggling to stay active and avoid liquidation.
Otago, the union that has produced the likes of Josh Kronfeld, Jeff Wilson, Clarke Dermody, Adam Thomson and even Richie McCaw in the age-grades, may be on its last legs. The futility of the Razorbacks and the Highlanders over the last few seasons and the building of the new Forsyth Barr Stadium has led to their bankruptcy and the fall of what used to be one of the bigger unions of New Zealand rugby.
Personally I blame their white elephant, Forsyth Barr Stadium, for their downfall. Otago's decision to build a bigger stadium for the Rugby World Cup did not take into account the declining attendance at their home games. But the fact that they weren't able to make enough money brings up a question: Should rugby in New Zealand become more commercialized?
Here in Aotearoa, many people ridicule American sports broadcasts due to the amount of commercial breaks and the constant brand-name dropping often at inopportune times, such as when Mike Goldberg had to keep bringing up Corn Nuts at UFC 144. But at least they make money. Sports in America is a billion dollar industry.
Otago's current state has led to people calling for rugby to become an amateur sport once more. Clearly that is an overreaction because amateurism would ruin rugby at its highest level. To play at a high level, more time needs to be put into training and conditioning, and to ensure that they can do that, they need to be paid and therefore professional.
Professionalism does have its drawbacks. It changes the behaviour of athletes because of how much money they make or how they are marketed. Look no further than the NBA and their lockout. Due to the need to ensure that athletes are all top quality, professionalism is inevitable. To pay for these professionals, commercialism is needed. It is annoying to watch, but it does the job and it helps the sport.
Does New Zealand need to do become more commercial to prevent further unions from dissolving?
New Zealand rugby has largely avoided over-commercialization over the years. Apart from stadium and competition names, it's not very evident. Compare that to other rugby teams: Japan's rugby teams are all named after companies, such as the RICOH Black Rams. Australia's Super Rugby teams are now attached to their sponsors, such as the University of Canberra Brumbies. But in New Zealand, the teams are run by the NZRFU.
Therefore, they make less money, which is a big reason why there are so many New Zealand players going overseas. If they could make more money and pay their top-level players more, then more of them will stay in the country. The Super Rugby franchises have now been opened up for private ownership, which is a good step forward. If they were run by a wealthy person with business knowledge as opposed to the NZRFU, then the teams may be able to turn in more of a profit.
As mentioned before, in America, sports are a business. The teams are all run like businesses and make tons of money. Their broadcasting model is also full of commercials and sponsorship. Even their highlight packages have to be introduced with a bit of name-dropping. It may ruin the broadcast for a lot of people, but in this era of professional sport, it is becoming a necessity. Perhaps not to the same extent as American sport, but more than it is now.
It would be a shame to see Otago gone for good. They have a week to go until liquidation. All New Zealand teams should take note of this. It's a sign that something has to be done to ensure all the teams can turn in a profit and avoid the same fate. Succumbing to commercialism is seen by many as moving over to the dark side, but it is necessary to run professional sports now. It doesn't have to be big changes, it should start off incrementally. Even just little changes to gain sponsorship money will help out.
I would like to hear other people's opinions so feel free to comment below.