Home > The Final Word > The Final Word – How do we value entertainment?

The Final Word – How do we value entertainment?

As I promised a couple of weeks back, The Final Word makes a triumphant return in its full glory, and this time, I’m taking a look at what fans want. Do they really appreciate a winner, or they only after entertainment?? Or are they simply too greedy and want both??

As I mentioned in my last Monday Wrap, I was prompted into this by a piece from Sun Herald writer David Sygall, where he took a look at the situation the Waratahs had found themselves in post crisis fan meeting. It made me question myself, do fans really just want teams to win, or are they content with a side that loses, but entertains in the process? I thought it best to simply go through this, and use examples from each of the major sports about winners, and entertainers, and possibly both. So lets start with my obvious one – rugby league:

Rugby League

So I may be a bit biased here, but really, I think it’s universally agreed that when on song, the Tigers are the best team in the competition to watch. The genius that is Benji Marshall, combined with the guile of a Robbie Farah, as well as outside backs like Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri, the Tigers stand out above them all. Even prop Todd Payten has the play-making skills of a half, but unfortunately lives in the body of a front rower. Since winning their maiden premiership 6 years ago, the Tigers have made the finals only once. Yet the crowds at the Tigers in that time have been one of the highest in Sydney, merchandise sales the highest in the competition, and free-to-air broadcaster Channel 9 jumping on the bandwagon, giving the side more coverage in a year (2006) than the 4 years that preceeded the premiership. All this means more money in the pocket from sponsors, memberships, ticket sales, merchandise etc. Plenty of (so-called) die hard fans called for heads due to the team’s finals exile, but sport is now a business, and the Tigers were thriving!

So what about the opposite. Since signing coach Wayne Bennett in 2009, the Dragons have been the benchmark of the competition, defensively at least, beating everyone in front of them last year to their first Premiership, and all signs point to a similar outcome this year. In that period, of course like the Tigers, sponsorship, crowds, merchandise, free-to-air TV coverage is all rising. But it is also widely accepted that the Dragons play ‘boring’ football, grinding teams into the ground, no mistakes, and simply accumulating points when they can. The only sides that trouble the Dragons are those that face them in inclement weather (Sharks), or teams that throw the ball around a little (Storm, Parra -when Hayne turns up, Tigers).

Football

In the football world, there is one prime example of this right under our nose, The Socceroos. Just 12 months ago we were about to enter the biggest test we had faced as a footballing nation, facing Germany in the FIFA World Cup, after a dominant, yet amazingly hesitant, qualifying campaign which was our first through the Asian confederation. We lost only two games through the whole of our qualifying, both in the first group round, and conceded just one goal in the second group phase. Then coach Pim Verbeek (or Verbleak, whichever you want to call him) was given the task of getting us into the World Cup, nothing else. Now while there is no doubting that Australia’s strength in footballing terms is our defense, and to put it bluntly, our ability to soften up a few teams. But Verbleak decided that in order to get the job done (and all credit to him, he did get us there convincingly) we needed to just do that, defend. This caused much distension within the team, and ultimately meant they lost the fans, something which had been such a big element in the last campaign. Australians love their sport, and you have to do a fair bit to lose and Australian fan supporting their own country, but Verbleak managed it. His style got results, we were winning, but there is no doubt we were boring. Now when this all unraveled against Germany (which was almost the Aussie fan’s ultimate told you so for Verbleak), the Australians reverted back to their traditional style from the Hiddink/Farina days, which saw some dogged, yet more entertaining efforts, against Ghana and Serbia.

Just 12 months on, and the optimism within football circles about the future is amazing. New coach Holger Osieck has brought a more free flowing style, and while still using the same players, and identifying the defensive strength, his ‘have a go’ attitude to the side has produced results, and thoroughly entertained fans at the same time. Just this week, a 0-0 draw with World Cup combatants Serbia was one of the most entertaining games the Australians have played on home soil for some time. His style and system did unravel in a Verbleak-esque way against Egypt late last year, but the fact that this happened trying to entertain and win the game meant that the fans, and as a result the corporate support, held strong. We may have fallen short at the Asian Cup, but our performances there and the subsequent VICTORY! (props to Johnny Drama as Tarvold!) over Germany in Germany, show that you can play entertaining, or positive football (of any code for that matter) and get the same results. Playing negative instills negativity in the group, playing positive does the opposite. Our two performances against Germany in the past 12 months are the prime example.

Rugby Union

Rugby is one of the best examples of entertainment and winning. Just a few years ago, the Queensland Reds were Super Rugby whipping boys, but they still had some very entertaining players. Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Digby Ioane, Will Genia, all players who were with the Reds just a few years ago. Three of those players remain, and now they are Australia’s dominant franchise. Not much has changed there, just a persistence with strengths, one of which was the points coming from Cooper and co, while stocking up the forwards. Too often in rugby, the three points is the easy option, and the best option. Teams are more focused on their goal-kicker than their fly-half or fullback. As Sygall was writing about, the Waratahs had a crisis seminar of sorts, with members and fans welcomed to voice their concerns. Now the Waratahs have been the most successful Australian franchise over the past 5 years, but still crowds dwindle. What used to be a solid fan base has fallen to the bare essentials, just the fanatics and some occasional interested parties. Sygall writes:

“The fury voiced by frustrated fans at the Waratahs’ core of top staff and players at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday night is symptomatic of a notable shift in the expectations of viewers of modern sport.

Most coaches, administrators and players across many sports maintain people paying to attend their matches or watching on television want their team to win – however the result is achieved. But in a society short on patience and in an increasingly competitive sporting/entertainment environment, grinding out a result might no longer be enough to satisfy viewers.

”You guys are in the entertainment business, you’ve got a responsibility to entertain people, so when it comes to accountability, who are you accountable to?” 1957 Wallabies fullback Terry Curley asked the meeting.

Coach Chris Hickey’s effort to show through statistics that his team was performing well – equal fourth in tries scored in the 15-team competition and making the finals last season – did not sway sentiment.

”I am disappointed to hear, Chris, that you’re hanging your hat on statistics,” another fan said, ”when really the only statistic that counts at the moment is that you guys are haemorrhaging fans to the point where it’s unsustainable.””

The next week, the Waratahs came out and had a 29-3 half time lead, with 5 tries and NO penalty goals in the whole game. The fans are yet to be sighted at there games, but in a city such as Sydney, can they really afford not to be entertaining?

Now I’m going to ignore the Melbourne Storm in this debate as while they fit in the winning entertainers category for rugby league, it is proven that they did so with an illegal roster. But in the business that is rugby league, do people want entertainers, or winners? Well I’ve come to the conclusion that they essentially want both, but it comes down to defining what different types of fans want. The die-hard wants a winner, they don’t care how it is done, they just want success, and entertainment comes as a bonus. The average spectator wants entertainment, and rightly so. They don’t have a major attachment to either side, and pay to be entertained – hence why the Tigers have come everyone’s second team. Finally we have the bandwagon supporter. This is the person that says ‘this team is winning, I think i’ll support them now!’ (**cough**Dragons fans**cough**) These are the people that want both – a winning team that entertains. When they entertain they say they just want winners, when they win they say how boring the team players.

So yes, sport is a business. Fans pay to be entertained, and as a result it is a reasonable expectation that if you pay to go to a game, you want to be entertained. Being a Tigers fan, I’m always entertained. For a while, winning had been a bonus. Over the last two years, the Tigers have started grinding out ugly wins that have been just as satisfying as the entertaining ones. Now I’m clearly biased here, but I want entertainment, even though I’m severely disappointed by a loss, I just love the way we play. But there are plenty of people out there who just want winners. In my opinion, there should be no coach in any sport who instructs his team to play boring just to get the win – if you play entertaining, you’re more than likely going to score points and be a better chance of winning. If you don’t take the risk, you’ll get no reward!

But the question really remains, do winners entertain us?

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