Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rugby or comics: it’s all bad business

I love rugby, it’s my sport. I’m shit scared about this year’s world cup, because I’m not sure I can take that kind of heartbreak again. I support South Canterbury, the Crusaders and the All Blacks to the end.

And yet – apart from going to see my young nephew chuck a ball around – I haven’t been to a rugby game in a good five years. I love the atmosphere of a good game, and love sitting in the stands as my team show why they’re the best in the world, but I just don’t go to them anymore.

There are a number of reasons, but the decision to move big games into a night setting has caused tremendous harm to the game. Administrators chasing filthy TV lucre have forgotten that the rugby suffers as the ball slips through frozen fingers, and sitting in their lovely warm corporate boxes above the stands, they fail to notice that an enjoyably sunny and crisp winter afternoon in Dunedin can become a miserable night out once that sun goes down behind the hills.

There is also an over saturation of product here in New Zealand. The year stars with loads of Super 15 games, followed by a full-on test series that moves into the provincial competition and ends with more overseas tours. There is only two months off before it all starts over again, a winter sport proving to be a year-round event.

This wouldn’t be so bad if this saturation of the market didn’t result in a dilution of quality, but the world doesn’t work like that. So many games and so many players spread so widely leads to dull predictability, not helped by a strict Tri-Nations format that has been stale for years – more television needs overcoming the good of the game.

And finally there is the price issue – individual tickets for local games are exorbitant, and result in matches attended by literally dozens of people. Given the choice between watching it on the big screen at home or sitting in those frozen stands, most people will stay away, because they can’t be guaranteed value for money.

There are still astonishingly good games of rugby being played every week, but there are also lots and lots of dire ones, where professional athletes handle the ball about as good as my nine-year-old nephew and it’s all dull crash and bash that is only decided by kicking talent.

Ultimately, it’s just not worth the cost to make that risk, and I can’t be the only one put off by the high price of games in this country.

Compare and contrast with the mighty republic of South Africa, the only other country in the world that really gives a fuck about its rugby, where games are still played in sunshine and ticket prices are realistic. Their stands are packed, even for the most hopeless matches. New Zealand rugby has evidently decided that it’s better to have these vast empty coliseums, getting top dollar for individual tickets, rather than a stadium full of cheap seats which would actually generate an atmosphere that guarantees long-term revenue.

So there is this form of entertainment that I enjoy and want to support, but there is too much tedious and overpriced product that fails to deliver value for money, created by an industry that is savaging its long-term gains in favour of the quick buck.

This sounds awfully familiar.

It should sound familiar, the same things that be said about parts of the music, movie and television industries. All of them make the same mistakes over and over again, and only have themselves to blame if they can’t adapt to continually changing technologies.

But if there is one thing I love more than rugby, it’s comics (and Doctor Who). I genuinely love superhero comics and want to buy them, but there is too much tedious and overpriced product that fails to deliver value for money, created by an industry that is savaging its long-term gains in favour of the quick buck.

There are some vigorously entertaining superhero comics available every month, but there are loads and loads that are barely worth $1, let alone the seven bucks they cost around here.

I still try new stuff, thanks largely to an excellent selection of new titles at the local library, but there is little that is truly excited enough to follow. I was weirdly disappointed in the avalanche of new titles DC recently unveiled, with the same old names producing the same old stuff, and actually wish there were more than a handful of titles that grabbed my interest.

I want to buy superhero comics that are competently told, with a sense of goddamn humour and some real humanity in between the super punching, but so many comics are tied into some vast and under-thought master plan that barely holds the attention, or take themselves so damned seriously they just look boring and stupid and old.

I can’t offer up any solutions other than the obvious – good product at a good price will always find a good audience, and even that depends on a common definition of what ‘good’ means, which is never going to happen.

All I really know is that I want to go to rugby games and buy more monthly superhero comic books than I currently do, but if I’m getting nothing but dull product – if I’m not even getting value for money – then I’m not going to do it, and spend that discretionary income elsewhere. Hello, nice restaurants!

Or I can just find the simple pleasures in something that doesn’t have a cynical eye on my wallet. I can cheer on my little nephew from the sideline as these keen kids buzz about the playing field, or stick to the comics that remind me why I liked superheroes in the first place. It’s a shame these instances need to be so rare, but a genuine love of the game, whether it’s rugby or comics, is always going to be attractive.

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