Big brother, they're not watching you anymore

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2013
Chiefs vs Canes
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ

HEAD TO HEAD: The Chiefs beat the Hurricanes on the playing field last night, but the battle for Taranaki fans is just beginning.

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OPINION: Take the emotion out of the Chiefs-Hurricanes debate and it makes perfect sense for Taranaki to grab a share in the licence to run the Super Rugby champions.

The alliance between Taranaki and the Hurricanes has always been acrimonious. It's a simple big-brother, little-brother scenario where the Wellington Rugby Union has been pulling the strings from the moment the franchise was first called the Wellington Hurricanes.

Early on, most fans in Taranaki were happy enough to get a regular game because it was usually against decent opposition, including the Waratahs, Reds and Chiefs.

Fast forward a decade and it was the likes of the Lions, Force or Cheetahs being thrown at the Super Rugby starved audience out west, usually along with a threat of "get a good crowd or else" tagged to the invitation.

The Taranaki Rugby Football Union were not overly happy but kept their feelings hidden. As long as the dividends kept rolling in each year, there was no need to rock the boat.

Things changed dramatically, though, when the Hurricanes started losing their appeal and hit rock bottom during coach Mark Hammett's first year.

Dividends dried up, so did public support.

Crowds have not flocked back, even with better on-field performances, to the point where the Hurricanes were averaging the lowest average home attendance out of all the New Zealand franchises until last night and one of the poorest in the competition.

The sight of tens of thousands of empty yellow seats at Westpac Stadium is not good for business or morale.

Let's face it, Wellington sports fans have lost their love of sport, live sport anyway.

The stadium, once a thriving arena, usually only attracts a good crowd for test matches or novel sporting events like the Warriors coming to town.

The Hurricanes' own board have been critical of the stadium, labelling it as too expensive (believed to be in excess of $200,000 a game), lacking atmosphere and with inflexible caterers.

This whole background is supposed to attract Taranaki Rugby into investing money which would benefit this province? The loyalty card is worth only so much.

Super Rugby has a history of cities shifting their franchise support and it's been happening in the United States since 1902 when the Milwaukee Brewers moved to St Louis.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the time is right to be part of a franchise with the potential to be a genuine partner.

With the Waikato, Counties, King Country and Bay Of Plenty unions hardly flush for funds, Taranaki's investment could see it with have a genuine voice on the board.

"Growing Rugby, Developing People, Inspiring Taranaki" is a mission statement the union takes seriously.

The decision to close the door on the Hurricanes and say hello to the Chiefs is about bringing the best domestic players from around the globe on a regular basis and playing them in an under-utilised provincial asset.

It's not Taranaki's fault the New Zealand Rugby Union's professional model resembles a communist economic plan with little scope for private investors to make money.

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Even so, the Chiefs investment looks way more attractive than the Hurricanes and could be the only way we continue to see professional rugby played in the province, especially if the NPC continues to be downgraded.

- Taranaki Daily News

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