Does sport have an obligation to be entertaining?
New Zealand All Blacks fly-half Daniel Carter, right, blocks a kick from his counterpart Australia's Berrick Barnes during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Sports entertainment was once the realm of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation.
Now, all modern day sport, for better or worse, has been moved into this category.
Fans choosing when, how and where to spend their leisure dollar have more choice than ever.
I pressed one button on my remote control yesterday and had at least eight different options available to me without having to leave the couch.
Most sports administrators are acutely aware of the market they operate in and the competition that confronts them.
New Sydney FC chief executive Tony Pignata put his feet under the desk, realised that Sydney siders need a little more convincing than others and went and signed Alessandro Del Piero.
Players voted among the best of all time aren’t readily available to CEOs across all sports, but Pignata saw a need and filled it.
Fans have responded by turning up in record numbers.
What every club, state, country is searching for is mass market appeal.
It’s a need to be loved by everyone and if love isn’t possible then the goal is to at least be respected.
It doesn’t have to be through a big signing, but sports must do everything possible to make sure they’re acknowledged by the average sports fan.
A person might not be a fan of football, rugby league or the AFL, but they know if they sit down for a couple of hours and watch that they’ll be mildly entertained.
Those sports, including cricket with its open-armed embrace of all things Twenty20, are doing everything possible to increase their mass market appeal.
So, why is rugby union different?
Let’s eliminate Super Rugby from this argument because at least they acknowledged that a problem existed.
It was interesting, yet also concerning, to hear key members of the Wallabies set-up this week tell the world that tries weren’t important.
Coach Robbie Deans led the charge by defending his side’s draw with the All Blacks in Brisbane.
“I think people get hung up with tries scored and not scored,” said Deans.
Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe echoed the view of his coach in a radio interview with ABC Grandstand on Saturday.
That opinion was countered by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen who described the clash as “one of the ugliest games of rugby I have ever been involved in.”
Sport is entertainment and the Wallabies are losing a war they may not even know they’re involved in.
My close group of friends are sports mad.
They would watch anything even closely resembling a contest between two things vaguely resembling teams.
At the moment I couldn’t pay one of them to come to a Wallabies game with me.
All of these guys used to love watching Australia play. These aren’t typical “rugby-bashers”, but the type of fan the game is losing.
They’re the passionate majority.
If it’s in green and gold they’ll support it, but the Wallabies have fallen off that list.
Outgoing Australian rugby union chief executive John O’Neill told the Sunday Telegraph yesterday that the game needed to realise that it was “in the entertainment business and with the freedom of choice you run the risk people will turn it off.”
O’Neill also acknowledged that scrum resets and penalty kicks don’t equal entertainment.
The argument made by those defending the game has always been that perhaps the rest of us don’t appreciate the contest within the contest.
Perhaps that is true.
The Wallabies pulled 51,888 to Suncorp for the match against New Zealand, 22,278 to their clash with Argentina on the Gold Coast and 34,377 turned up to watch the Aussies take on South Africa in Perth.
So, maybe rugby fans don’t care about what the international game is dishing up. They’re still coming through the turnstiles.
But, as O’Neill said, rugby is now in the “entertainment business” and I highly doubt any new fans are being drawn to the sport.
Their competitors copped the hint a long time ago and they’re already reaping the rewards.
It’s not enough just to win anymore. Now, more than ever, how you win matters.
They need to rediscover the magical formula that made the Wallabies the pride of the nation.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.
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