Sports in New Zealand

Rugby is the undisputed national sport of New Zealand. But lately, soccer, basketball, and eSports are attracting increased media coverage.

The explanation is straightforward. Sport is growing in popularity in New Zealand. People are increasingly looking for things to do outside of their work lives. And although rugby is a great pastime, more and more New Zealanders are exploring different sports.

Below is an overview of the growing sports industry in New Zealand.

Historical Growth

When you think about it, the most popular sports in New Zealand are old. Rugby was introduced into the country in 1870. Soccer debuted in NZ in 1891 while Australian football, basketball, and cricket have been around since the 20th century.

The bottom line: ancient sports lead in popularity. These sports have had a long time to solidify their fanbases, invest in nurturing talents, organize competitions and attract widespread media coverage.

Some young sports are growing steadily in New Zealand by appealing to specific audiences. Esports, for example, target young audiences. Golf targets the rich. By niching out, these sports are making steady steps towards attaining national popularity.

Still, the most dominant sports in NZ are those that have been around for the longest time. Of course, there are some exemptions. Olympicgames, for example, go largely quiet unless there’s a major global competition.

The Digitization of Sports

Sports in NZ have come a long way since the days of Ki (Rahi), a popular Maori game that was similar to modern-day rugby. In this digital age, the average Kiwi consumes sports content on almost every platform.

You can watch sports on TV. You can stream them through your iPhone or follow previews and live results on social media. Additionally, you can play your favorite sport in the form of a video game.

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And if you’re not much into video games, you can join the newest online casino to play a rugby-themed slot machine. Sports-themed slots are based on pure luck. Nonetheless, they’re thrilling, interactive, and can be played for real money.

A Supportive Fanbase

Ever wondered why soccer is so popular globally but struggles to attract attention in countries like the US? It all comes down to support. In New Zealand, people truly love rugby. And as a result, it’s so dominant.

In the US, fans prefer American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. In turn, soccer takes a back seat. These days, sports fans in New Zealand are getting more adventurous with the sports they support.

Older generation fans still swear by the Rugby Union. However, younger fans are exploring basketball, soccer, and eSports—sports with the most appeal around the world.

In other words, sports have a supportive environment in New Zealand. Lots of people love to play a little bit of sports. The government is supportive, the media is always covering sports and there are plenty of corporate sponsors for every organized sport.

Skills and Complexity

People generally love to support things that require a lot of skills. The only catch is that the activity must be enjoyable. Sports are a great fit here. You may not be a talented basketball player.

But watching a more technically gifted player dribble, defend, and dunk the ball is entertaining. There used to be a time when the typical sports professional was no different from an amateur.

Nowadays, the world of sports encompasses only the most gifted players. Take European soccer as an example. When you tune in to watch the EPL, you watch the best of football.

You watch athletes play your favorite sport in a way you can only dream of. To ensure sports are growing, leagues and teams have developed narratives that keep fans hooked.

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The most popular sports narrative is that of an underdog achieving greatness by defeating much better opponents. Sports love an underdog story. And leagues that succeed in creating captivating narratives stand a great chance of succeeding in Kiwi land.

Competitions and Rivalries

One common link among the fastest-growing sports in New Zealand is that they have numerous organized competitions. Let’s start with rugby. There’s the national team. Then there are tons of club-level competitions.

The national team unites Kiwis through success and failure. Local rugby clubs split fans into regional rivals. Rivalry is an important element in the growth of sports. Where it exists, sport thrives.

When there’s no rivalry because a league is uncompetitive, its future is put at risk. This explains why a lot of New Zealand fans will watch and follow the NBA but not local basketball teams. They enjoy the competitive nature of the NBA.

As a fan, it also feels good to dedicate your loyalty to a team that plays beautifully and wins trophies. However, winning isn’t the only thing that keeps fans loyal. Player commitment and unity among fans help a team grow during tough times.

Access and Affordability

When you think about it, the most popular sports in NZ are affordable and accessible to millions of fans. Parents don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and membership fees for sports like rugby and soccer.

Instead, kids can play rugby at school at no cost to the parents. They can also play the sport in the neighborhood thanks to sports parks that are mostly funded by the government.

When a sport is affordable and requirescheap equipment to play, it can easily grow anywhere. That’s one of the reasons behind the massive growth of soccer globally. But it’s also one of the explanations for the limited growth of sports like ice hockey and American football.

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That being said, the growth of NZ’s middle class is creating an environment that accommodates more expensive sports. New Zealanders willing to spend a few hundreds of dollars per month are experimenting with sports like tennis, hockey, eSports, and Gridiron.

What Makes Sports Thrive in NZ?

Similar to many parts of the world, culture has a major impact on NZ’s love for sports. People have been playing rugby and soccer for decades. In turn, these two sports are so popular in the country.

The sports have organized competitions that create tough rivalries. On the other hand, tremendous media coverage helps ensure millions of Kiwis have access to the sports they love.

Golam Muktadir is a passionate sports fan and a dedicated movie buff. He has been writing about both topics for over a decade and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with his readers. Muktadir has a degree in journalism and has written for several well-known publications, including Surprise Sports and Surprise Movies.


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