This much is undeniable. The fate of the first super rugby match to be played in Samoa under the lights at Apia Park – in as far as the crowd goes - was clearly written on the wall from the start.
Barring a miracle in terms of last minute ticket sales, which did not happen, the match was always going to be a hard sell. And because we genuinely wanted this to work not just for the franchises involved but also for Samoa, we warned about it right from the start.
Back at the beginning of April in an editorial titled “Let’s not waste an opportunity,” we expressed our concerns in the hope that there was still enough time and something could have been done. It was ignored of course.
Now we believe what we said then is extremely relevant to the tide of public opinion now following the disaster we had at Apia Park on Friday. To refresh your memory, this is what we said then:
“The prices of tickets to the historical Super Rugby fixture between the Auckland Blues and the Queensland Reds at Apia Park in June are way too expensive. Ridiculously expensive for local standards in fact.
How expensive? A centre stand seat will set you back $450 (NZ$247), a side stand ticket will cost you $300 (NZ$165) with the cheapest ticket for general admission $40 (NZ$22).
For sure these prices might well be the norm in Australia and New Zealand and that is fine. They have the income levels to support the prices there and the fan base to sustain it.
But for Samoa, these prices are way beyond the reach of the majority of people who would otherwise love to be part of the upcoming spectacle.
Now unless the brains behind this game want an audience of only corporates, seasoned Blues and Reds ticket holders who are and unlikely to come and high-ranking government officials whose tickets will of course be bought by taxpayers through one way or another, they might want to reconsider.
We say this because this is a huge opportunity to grow the game of rugby – especially Super rugby – in this part of the world.
Imagine Apia Park at full capacity with the crowd waving their Blues and Reds flags for the world to see just how passionate this country really is about rugby? Imagine being able to recreate that magical atmosphere of the historical first test match between the All Blacks and Manu Samoa a few years ago where Apia Park was a full house with all the colours, dancing and the excitement?
The difficulty for the Blues and Reds is they are not the All Blacks. And although the Blues are loved to death by many people in Samoa despite their recent record, the prices are still steep and getting people to the game would be a tough sell.
Let’s face it. We know the sport is all about money these days and super rugby is exactly that. We also know it’s expensive to stage such a game and we get that.
But whoever thought up the idea of bringing Super rugby to the Apia Park, we are sure money was not the motivating factor.
Truth be told, there is no money to be made from such a game on these shores.
The Apia Park for instance can only host no more than 10,000 people. The domestic income of the local population – apart from the corporates – is fairly minimal and largely limited which means they could not have possibly hoped to generate income from ticket sales.
As far as we can see, the organisers of the game saw an opportunity to be the good guys, to be seen to be growing the game by giving their poor Pacific cousins a taste of the big time. It’s a goodwill mission.
And that’s what the focus should be about. It should be about showcasing to the world that Samoa offers a genuine atmosphere where rugby is loved for the game – not just for commercial purposes. It’s a refreshing break from weekly Super rugby action, which is struggling to keep the TV ratings and the crowds.
This week (in April), we welcomed Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua who are here to promote the game. These great Ambassadors of rugby and proud sons of Samoa have done a fantastic job getting out there in the community and mixing with people. Their humility, humour and professional approach to what they do are great examples for our young people to follow. We are so proud of them.
Come June, many more players of Samoan descent will be in Apia. They will be hoping this country turns out in full capacity to watch them play. And we are sure about one thing. All Samoans would love the opportunity to be there.
But $40 is steep by local standards. Most grassroots people cannot afford it.
Even people who are fairly well compensated at their places of work will cringe at having to fork out $400 for a ticket, let alone anything more than $200.
It will be sad that all this excitement ahead of the fixture will amount to an empty Apia Park when most die hard fans will prefer to stay home and watch the game on TV – like they do every week of Super rugby – because it’s free.”
Our fears unfortunately came true on Friday.
So don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Having said all that, we acknowledge that it costs money – and lots of it – to host these games. Unfortunately, the reality is that Samoa will never be able to provide that kind of cash for such games.
Which means the focus needs to change from being about money to goodwill instead. It means instead of selling ticket prizes at such ridiculously expensive prices, perhaps organisers can look at a way of subsidizing the ticket prizes to fill the stadium. With the right people marketing the game finding the right opportunities and the right sponsorships, that could have easily prevented the embarrassment we had.
Besides, in terms of going forward, we might have to reconsider the time of the fixtures. Night games are great for urban dwellers and city folks but what about people in Savai’i and rural villages? They too must be considered.
And lastly, here’s a word of advice to the franchises. If you put your star players on posters to promote the game for some two months, make sure they play. And make sure they don’t just fly in for the game and leave right after. There is no goodwill in that, if anything that is insulting and one of the quickest ways to drive people away.
Keep in mind that in Samoa, we’re an interesting people . While we enjoy rubbing shoulders with stars, everyone is a star in their own right. Just as everyone is a king in their own village.