Well, if there’s anything to make anyone feel a little bit older, it’s the sooner than expected arrival of the latest installment of the Rugby World Cup. Without giving away my age, I can vividly remember trooping along to Lancaster Park in Christchurch, to witness the novelty of the newly minted World Cup – when the game was still amateur and all of the men in black had day jobs. 1987 – 32 years ago – and a fabulous and stark reminder of how much the national game has changed over three decades.
As much as any All Blacks fan, I want us to win the World Cup, and apart from the last two tournaments, and the first, it’s been a frustrating and woeful experience. I can still recall that horrible quarter final loss to France in 2007. The game slipping away, every decision going against us and the sad acceptance that we didn’t have he leadership on the field to turn it around. The end of that game was one of the strangest experiences in my sports fan life. When the whistle blew I went into the garden, sat down and wondered how so much promise had turned to dust, again. It was early morning, quiet, serene, almost other worldly.
Then it began – the steady whine and hum of an army of lawnmowers – a band of blokes and blokettes, lost in thought and disappointment and committed to losing themselves in the safety and reliability of transforming lawns. I’ve thought about that moment quite a few times and to me it speaks volumes about the experience of being a fan. There’s highs, middles, and lows and the lows are always the hardest part. Trying to process the loss and re-establish faith. I think that cacophony of lawnmowers is almost the perfect analogy of working to deal with an unimagined defeat – the loneliness, the futility, and the drive to understand. I could be stretching here but every time my teams have lost since, I can hear that sound in my head and it’s a strange comfort of togetherness with all of those other fans feeling exactly the same thing.
This World Cup didn’t start off that way at all. The All Blacks beat a very solid South African team and established the ideal platform to progress through six gruelling weeks of tournament play. But while the All Blacks delivered on the park, the telco that won the rights to transmit the games did not. Spark has had a nightmare. Streaming was unreliable and many fans were left with buffering and frozen screens.
Now, New Zealanders will put up with an awful lot, but we don’t put up with not seeing our rugby heroes in the way that we paid for. Unfortunately, the days of state sanctioned television rights are well and truly over. Like practically everything else, the market is king and the market loves sports. Sports is a multi-billion dollar industry driven by sponsors, endorsements and viewing rights.
Spark has rightly been in the crosshairs as its systems have failed miserably and its customers have experienced woeful service. But, and this is a big but, Spark has so far delivered on dealing with a situation, that, to be fair is a little out of its hands. It has offered refunds and transmitted games on free to air channels.
More importantly, it has owned its mistakes and failures and offered palatable solutions. It is far too commonplace to see corporations shift blame, continue with terrible service and leave consumers disappointed. The way that anyone, or any entity deals with failure is a real mark of maintaining a reputation. So well done Spark. Hopefully all issues will be speedily resolved and Kiwis can get on with the business of enjoying their favourite sports tournament.