Ross Karl: Europe leaving New Zealand behind in recognising women’s rugby

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OPINION: I immediately felt embarrassed when I turned on the TV Sunday morning. It was embarrassment for New Zealand culture because we’ve been shown up. 

The screen flashed on and in front of me was the Women’s Six Nations. It was France running rampant against Ireland, it was entertaining and it made me think we’ve got it all wrong down here.

The Black Ferns may set the standard on the field but the Northern Hemisphere is miles ahead of us when it comes to progressing, expanding and marketing the women’s game.

The women’s Six Nations has been running since 2002. Have you ever heard talk in the media of a women’s Rugby Championship? Isn’t that embarrassing for world’s premier rugby country? Are we the same nation that prides itself on being the first to give women the vote? How did rugby culture get so far behind?

The Six Nations throws resource and good ideas at their women’s tournament. We need to copy it.

They’ve leveraged off their successful brand – the Six Nations.

Their best idea is simple and effective. The sexes play the same teams on the same day. Fans immediately know that when the men play, the women will be doing the same thing that day. That’s the marketing battle already half won. Tie the broadcasting rights in together and suddenly, rugby fans are watching both, as part of a television double header.

It makes way too much sense and it’s unbelievable that it hasn’t been done for the Rugby Championship. We host the odd women’s series in New Zealand, and that’s a start, but it doesn’t carry the weight that a brand like the Rugby Championship does. Sure, you need the other countries to buy-in but surely that’s doable. There’s a massive movement over the Tasman for professional women’s sports leagues, so the Aussies must be game.

They also do better than us at club level. The famous European clubs have women’s teams. The billboards at their grounds feature their female stars next to the men. Even passing fans will recognise names and faces of women they’ve never seen play because of it. That’s the kind of recognition we need here. It’s all about recognition.

We need to get the Black Ferns into the Weetbix and Gatorade ads with the All Blacks. That leverage will give the women’s game a big boost. The stature will grow and fans will follow. 

After that, when New Zealand Rugby sets up its planned professional women’s tournament it must use the Super Rugby team brands. Fans are already attached to those brands. A Blues or Crusaders fan will immediately feel something for their new team, before even watching them. They’re more likely to watch a game, read an article or listen to an interview because of it. Super Rugby’s stature must be utilised.

Until we drive past Waikato Stadium or Westpac Stadium and Portia Woodman or Kendra Cocksedge are looking back at us from a billboard, New Zealand rugby is lagging behind Europe off the field.

Ross Karl is the rugby editor for Newshub.



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