In the early days of Super Rugby, there was a pizazz surrounding the code. There was Bachman-Turner Overdrive declaring “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” blasting from our television.
The glamour in the commercials was translated onto the field, with a sense of flamboyance that attracted plenty to the game.
The promotion on Channel 7/Prime was second to none, and by the early 2000s, rugby had become the hottest ticket in Canberra. It was impossible to avoid.
Nowadays it’s hard to find, unless you’re a rugby-tragic.
Even judging by conversations had with people I would regard as rugby supporters, some weren’t even aware the season had started, let alone knowing what team the Brumbies were playing. Some even asked if the games were trial matches, and this was in the lead up to the second round.
I don’t necessarily blame the Brumbies.
The number of media conferences hasn’t changed dramatically. There are plenty of stories in mainstream media and there are corflutes lining the streets.
But there has been an obvious drop-off in the connection with rugby fans.
This correlates with the significant decline in coverage on Fox Sports after they lost the rights to Nine and Stan.
To be fair, there is not a huge coverage of rugby on Nine, even though they have the rights, while it’s a struggle at times to find stories about rugby in News Corp publications.
Perhaps this is just as much a reflection on the lack of interest in the code as it is in a media operator peeved that they lost the rights.
It’s fair to say people are getting information spread across numerous sources including social media, which wasn’t a factor in Super Rugby’s early days. This has made it both hard and easy to get the message out to promote the games.
It’s hard because there are so many different sources to disseminate information and targeting becomes problematic. It’s easy because there are so many different sources to send the message out.
Establishing a connection is the key.
But whatever the reason, not enough people know the games are on. This is sad really when considering round three is coming up, and the Brumbies are preparing to take on arch-rivals, the Waratahs.
This isn’t really about the Brumbies, though. Much of the apathy associated with the game has to be connected with the perceptions of rugby more broadly as played in Australia.
The stoppages in the game do not help at all. Games are halted for minutes while a player gets tape applied or a prop goes down for treatment seemingly every time a scrum is about to be formed.
The Brumbies crossed for seven tries against the Fijian Drua on the weekend. Some of these tries were great, including the one scored by Tom Banks in the first half.
But conversations among fans as they walked from the ground were not about tries but about the number of reset scrums. Again, perception overruled reality. It was a tough game of football despite the scoreline.
Perhaps the real reason for the lack of awareness is because rugby people continue to have unrealistic expectations of the game.
We all want running rugby, but there is a fine line between an intention to play open attacking rugby, and an opposition team doing their level best to prevent their rivals from doing so.
Either way, the Brumbies are up against the Waratahs in Round three on Saturday night. It should be a great game judging by the form of both teams. But how many people will be there watching?