Ayesha Leti-I’iga scored three tries for the Pride in their win over Counties on the weekend. Last season she scored 11 in the FPC, 41 in club rugby and earned a Black Ferns call-up where she has now cemented herself on the left wing. The 20-year old has pace, power, explosive athleticism and tenacity. She’s a special talent.
So how do we get those who don’t know what we do about players like Ayesha to turn out and support them and this competition?
Sport is tribal. Fans want to be part of something unique and special, to say they were there when history was made or feel like they’ve missed out if they didn’t see it happen. I can tell you where I was and who I was with during the 1995 World Cup final, how I punched my friend repeatedly in the arm as we sat in the stands at Eden Park when Grant Elliott smashed the Black Caps into the 2015 Cricket World Cup final, what it felt like watching Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty win gold and silver at the Athens Olympics.
Getting bums on seats is a major issue across every code in New Zealand. Newsrooms are shrinking and the coverage of women’s sport, with a few notable exceptions, is frankly laughable and resource for marketing and promotion is finite.
The provincial unions are trying things. Auckland is about to begin a “Storm 3000” promotion, aimed at getting 3000 fans to their final home game against Counties on October 5th, while it’ll be interesting to see what impact Manawatu’s idea of switching their double header around to have Cyclones play after the Turbos on October 12th will have.
The players are doing their bit on the field but every single one of us involved in the game needs to play our part off it, to help drive crowd attendance numbers. Maybe someone like me, who rarely has to pay for a ticket, can “pay it forward” and shout a family who may otherwise not go. Can we “bring a mate to the gate” where your friend goes free, or do we host a ladies long lunch before some matches and drive for a more corporate, influencer type crowd?
We’re less than two years from hosting the Rugby World Cup so the momentum needs to build now. Yes, there are obstacles but what I’ve learned in the last few years is the base of support behind women’s rugby is full of passionate people who are tireless in doing their best for the game.
It’s on all of us to create something tribal around the FPC and women’s rugby; something media can’t ignore. Let’s think innovatively and be bold so the next time Ayesha Leti-I’iga scores a hat-trick, you can say you were there.