Controlling coverage: it's a business call

18:34, Feb 26 2013

The concept of entertainment mixing with business is not a new one, but the level of business involvement has never been higher.

Kerry Packer produced the template in 1977 when he launched World Series Cricket for the Australian Nine Network. The fans loved it and the coverage, the players made lots of money and other media happily joined the circus.

Today the model is replicated around the world in a variety of codes. Top sport is delivered as a package and television coverage of the world's most popular games has never been better. But the priorities are clear, business comes first.

Those codes now actively control the flow of news from their business, notably by hiring their own people to ask questions after games, and, when dealing with media like Fairfax, engineering who speaks to reporters and when. So while grassroots club sport continues to rely on their newspaper to provide free publicity, at just one level up it is a different story.

The business plan can be - and is - an immensely successful one when it comes to rugby and football because those codes enjoy huge popularity, but fans are fickle and there is a risk in putting too great a level of control on a product.

Such was the case last weekend when the crowd at Eden Park watched the deciding one-day cricket match between England and New Zealand. Fans complained security staff threw people out for starting a Mexican Wave, going to sleep and throwing paper darts. Even beach balls were confiscated. A total of 87 people were thrown out, none were arrested.


So the message is clear: it's our party, and we'll throw you out if we want to.

There is, of course, two sides to the party-pooper claim. Mexican Waves were for a long time encouraged by halftime entertainers, who seemed oblivious to the fact hundreds of people were being walloped by bottles, or rained with beer and probably other less drinkable liquids.

But the bottom line is that if customers are not satisfied they may not come back. A decade ago the security was so pedantic at a test match at Eden Park that on a day when precious few bothered to turn up, some of those who did were told they would be denied entry because their chilly bin was too big. It was farcical because it came at a time when attendance figures for tests were plummeting and weekend numbers had slipped from 12,000 to under 4000. Those 4000 were certainly offered little encouragement to come back.

Organisers of the national kapa haka championships at Rotorua last weekend made it their business to ban print media from taking pictures and offer the use of provided photographs. The consequence of that was some media ignored the event.

Sports and stage organisations must ensure their followers are entertained and informed. When they put restrictions on either, there is an element of risk that those followers will lose interest.

In the case of the kapa haka event, organisers gambled they could bite a hand that feeds. It was a business call, and only they will know how well it has paid off.

That ultimately is what it comes down to - and the fact that if the gamble doesn't pay off they have a lot to lose.

Taranaki Daily News