Love it or hate it, the Black Clash is the future

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Opinion – Broadcaster Graeme Hill often lamented the sight of people making themselves “absolute New Zealanders”.

Richie McCaw at the T20 Black Clash, Team Cricket v Team Rugby at Bay Oval.
Photo: Photosport / Andrew Cornaga 2022

Hill’s assertion was that Kiwis were generally quite calm and dignified, but presenting them with a TV camera or a semi-famous person and any sense of decorum would go out the window.

I have to say I thought of Hill while watching the recent T20 Black Clash at Mount Maunganui.

I blame my son for having it, but ultimately I’m grateful to him.

In case you don’t know, the Black Clash is a so-called cricket match. In fact, it’s more like light-hearted children’s entertainment, in which aging cricketers take on rugby players.

It’s not a big advertisement for cricket or cricketers, but it’s immensely popular.

A crowd of over 10,000 gathered in Bay Oval, where the fun and the amber liquid seemed to flow in equal parts. Ultimately, it was unclear whether fans were more intoxicated by the alcohol or the opportunity to perform on camera. However, the atmosphere became more and more frenetic as the evening progressed.

People watching at home may have been a bit confused by the comment. Some would have expected professional, even competent work, and might have come away disappointed.

In all honesty, it just answered the lowest common denominator in the same way as the event itself.

I mention all of this in contrast to how Ross Taylor’s Test cricket career ended a few days earlier.

Rather than a cast of thousands, a few dozen people turned out at Hagley Oval to say goodbye to one of New Zealand’s biggest names.

Taylor, who barely ranks as a part-time bowler, took the last wicket of the match – just a third of his 112 Test career – to give the whole thing a tidy postscript.

I’m tempted to ask what the odds were of that happening. But, given the historical ties between Bangladesh cricketers and bookmakers, perhaps it’s best not to.

You might wonder if New Zealand Cricket (NZC) could have done more to celebrate Taylor’s career. I know people have told me that they all find the whole thing a bit flat.

In truth, Taylor is a modest guy – sometimes clumsy – and marching band just isn’t his thing. Some athletes want it all to revolve around them, but Taylor isn’t one of them.

Overall, though, I’d bet both matches would send a shiver down the spines of sports administrators.

The Black Clash is staged by a promotion company. Yes, most of the events they organize are sports related, but they are pure entertainment.

The action itself is very secondary to the carnival that takes place around it.

The problem is, however, that it’s now a beloved part of the sporting calendar. People line up to attend in person, athletes are happy to be involved, television ratings are strong and fans love to talk about it in the days that follow.

Traditional sporting events in this country are boring. They lack color, personality and excitement.

The admins still think the game itself is enough for the fans, but that’s not the case.

Personally, I don’t like the Black Clash. I felt embarrassed when it was the other night.

Embarrassed for some of the fans – who were persuaded to perform on camera – embarrassed for the players who had to mess with the TV presenters and embarrassed for the cricket.

But that’s the pattern now. If you want fans to attend your game and you want to engage viewers, you need to make the action a complement to the sideshow.

Soon we will have rugby journalists on the sidelines appearing between the front rows to have a little chat with friends before a scrum begins. The coaches will not be going to the locker room at halftime, but will be riding there by segway while stopping for selfies.

Instead of being so desperately serious, commentators will be louder and more colorful in the mistaken belief that will drive more of us away from the mute button.

The Black Clash is the future. This is the template for staging and covering an event. It’s organized entertainment that is clearly attracting growing numbers of Kiwis.

Buckle up sports fans, it could be a bumpy ride.

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