The 2017 New Zealand Winter Games gave us some great snow sports action, but what I really took away from this year’s event was how spectacular the Trans-Tasman Challenge series between New Zealand’s Ice Blacks and Australia’s Mighty Roos was.
New Zealand dressed an impressive lineup featuring the likes of Rick Parry, Gino Heyd, and what felt like half of the NZIHL champion Skycity Stampede.
Prior to the Winter Games, Australia had won all but one of their previous 15 encounters with New Zealand. It’s too early to say that domination is over, but the series was competitive throughout. The Ice Blacks looked dominant in game 1 as they came out swinging in-front of a sold out Queenstown crowd to win 4-1. Australia took the second game, with the third going to a penalty shootout to decide the victor. The Mighty Roos went on to win the series, but a little puck luck could’ve easily seen the result go the other way.
Overall, the test series felt like a success – so the question must be asked, should this become an annual event?
Recently PUCK YEAH ran the most scientific methods of audience measurement, the Twitter poll, to see if there was an appetite for this to happen.
With easily the most votes we’ve ever received on a poll, the Yeas firmly have it with a 91% margin over the Nays.
Humble brag time: Liam Stewart, son of Rod Stewart and New Zealand’s favourite ice cream spokesperson Rachel Hunter, is right behind the cause.
Perhaps the odd few that elected no did so because they are aware of the astronomical costs that are involved with sending a hockey team to New Zealand or Australia. While that is a factor that needs to be considered, it shouldn’t stop an annual test series from becoming a reality if it was done right.
The potential to boost hockey’s profile and reach within the New Zealand and Australian markets is huge.
I work with a legendary All Black open-side flanker, not Richie McCaw, the other one. When he found out that New Zealand was playing Australia in a test series of hockey, his excitement levels went through the roof and wanted to know how he could watch it. Josh Kronfeld is a great example of your everyday New Zealander who loves sport and wants to see a NZ team beat Australia, no matter what the code might be. For the purpose of this, I’ll call them ‘casual fans’.
The casual fan might not be aware that New Zealand’s main rival in hockey is actually Mexico. But for most NZ sports fans, the natural rivalry is of course with Australia. An annual series can help strengthen the level of competition with our neighbours across the ditch while generating further public interest. Imagine the merchandising opportunities if this sport managed to capture the imagination of Kiwi fans.
Attracting the right sponsors is key to figuring out the most crucial part, the cost. Money is needed to cover flights, accomodation, advertising, the ice time, and among other things, broadcasting.
There is many ways this can be achieved – including adding sponsor logos to the jerseys and brand integration within the live broadcast. Grow the product and companies will start listening and potentially open up their wallets, but they need to be approached far in advance. I’m aware that I am making this all sound rather easy when in fact it requires many hours of hard work to make it happen, but by bringing in the right marketing and media specialists, this can be achieved.
Puck Yeah understands that the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation are looking into ways they can possibly establish the test series as an annual event, which is an encouraging sign, so I’ve come up with my own idea of how I see this playing out in a perfect world.
Firstly, there will be a big beautiful trophy to play for; consider it the Bledisloe Cup of hockey. Over time this will create history and with it, a great sporting rivalry.
Secondly, alternate between countries. In 2018 Australia would host the series, New Zealand in 2019 and so on. In doing so, the host city also needs to rotate. In New Zealand alone this Trans-Tasman series could be hosted in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown, and hopefully one day, Wellington. With this rotation policy, each host city’s hockey community gets the media spotlight for one weekend; where their stories can be told and used as publicity for attracting new fans to the game. Think of it like ‘Hometown Hockey’ on Sportsnet.
Lastly, improve the visual coverage. A cheap live stream isn’t enough. If sponsorship is secured, the cost of a professional broadcast needs to be factored into the budget. A production company who can handle the outside broadcasting requirements for TV and online should be considered because casual fans are accustomed to a certain level of production value in their sports, as seen on ESPN and Sky Sports. From this you can generate more visual material for social media while also supplying highlights to local and international media. With hockey being a minority sport in this country, if you want the best media coverage, you have to serve it on a silver platter for them – they won’t chase you.
Speaking from experience, it can be tricky to get NZ media interested in hockey and the coverage is sporadic at best – which is the whole point of this website, to increase said coverage – but to see every major news website in this country mention the Ice Blacks over that weekend shows there is an interest in this series. You can credit Winter Games Media Manager George Berry for that. Amongst all his other responsibilities during the festival, he tirelessly sent out match reports/press releases, game photos, plus a little video content to the NZ media. This highlights the need for the NZIHF to have their own Media Manager to help facilitate more media opportunities and generate buzz.
Kiwis want to see their very best do well on a global stage and now the NZIHF have this unique opportunity to capitalise on the initial attention generated from the Winter Games.
So, let’s make it happen! Let’s make the Ice Blacks v Mighty Roos an annual test series. We owe it to the sport that’s given us all so much.
Photos: Kate Harrison