Rugby: Memo to the QRU / Queensland Reds on the fan experience

Last night saw the end of the 2014 Super Rugby season for the Queensland Reds. In a season where the membership of the Reds hit 55,000 (obviously this number includes single / three game memberships) it is strange to be writing a post about improving the fan’s experience. However, having attended all but one home game this year: the matters I intend to raise are things that have been floating through my mind all year.

Whilst the Reds are to be applauded for their obviously excellent membership drive this year, in the context of a poorly coached and under performing team going onto the field, here are 5 things they or the QRU must improve on to improve the fan’s experience AND keep all those members coming through the door:

1. Stop playing music / chants in the middle of play

I have never experienced this at any other Australian sporting event: the playing over the loud speaker of a stylised “We are Red” chant at important and even ad hoc parts of the game. It is irritating and does not promote chanting. Rather it is an embarrassment and must stop.

2. Time for a new “on field” announcer

The fan experience before and after the game and during breaks in play is oft guided by the “on field” announcer and the fellow the Reds have been trotting out for the last seven years is, frankly, appalling. Yelling into the microphone at every opportunity does not make for good ground announcing nor does being embarrassingly partisan. It is time for “Woodie” to head back to River 94.9FM and a change to be made.

3. Schedule more afternoon games

The next generation of rugby union fans are obviously in the age group of 5-12. The Reds (and indeed all sports franchises) have to take positive steps to get more these future fans to the games. A simple way to do that is to the schedule the game at a time that is more kid friendly. A 7:40pm is just too late for young families to come to the game. Scheduling more games at 3pm or even 4pm on a Sunday would solve this problem.

4. Open enough bars / food outlets to serve everyone comfortably

I have noticed over the last four or five rounds a contraction in the number of food outlets and bars open in the area in which I sit despite there being a steady increase in fans sitting in the area, particularly last night. Of course this leads to longer queues and more time away from the game. One would have thought given the robbery prices charges that they could afford to keep needed outlets open!

5. Who ever decided not to sell a match program last night must be sacked

I know I am a bit old school but the first thing I do when I walk through the gates of any sport event is buy a program. Whilst I was later than normal last night, when I arrived some 45 minutes before kick off I was astonished to find no programs on sale and I was not the only one looking for one! A program is an important part of the game experience for many fans: this must not happen again!

As I said at the start of this post: the Reds are to be applauded for their excellent membership drive this year. That said, if they want to keep those members, particularly members who have been members for a long time, these are matters that must be fixed in my view.

Bring on 2015 and, hopefully, an improved fan experience!

Reds v Highlanders: Six thoughts from an epic encounter

The Queensland Reds defeated the Highlanders last night in a pulsating clash at Lang Park that ended with a Reds try after the siren after the Highlanders had launched a might comeback. I have been pondering this game much since leaving the ground and 6 key thoughts have continued to resonate so I thought I would share them:

1. Been a long time since I was so excited by a win: boy the Reds needed that!

I have been a member of the Reds for a long time and a fan even longer. The last time I hugged the bloke next to me in overjoyed celebration at the end of a Reds game was when the Reds bested the Crusaders to win the championship in 2011. That was until last night: the emotion in the crowd, let alone on the field, at the end of last night’s game was indicative of how much this victory really meant for the Reds. It has been a season of lament but this victory will be long remembered.

2. The emotion of the victory should not mask how bad this Reds season has been

There is a golf analogy that is apt: “there is always one shot that keeps you coming back no matter how bad you play”. This win by the Reds could well have the same effect: in the wash up of a terrible season this game could be remembered and, indeed, mask what has been some terrible rugby by the Reds in 2014. Not wanting to take the shine of a great night but there were still signs of how bad the Reds have been this year in last nights win: silly penalties and options still were prevalent as was some lacking defence under pressure.

3. Will that win save Richard Graham? Probably but it shouldn’t

I was listening to Tim Cox’s program on 612 ABC on the way to the ground last night and heard one of the panelists comment that Richard Graham’s job has to be safe because the Reds will not want to go back to the dark days of changing coaches every year after bad results. I concede that I agree with that concept, in theory, but I can not agree with it as a principal justification for keeping a non-performing coach. This win will help Graham’s cause as will avoidance of a hard decision by the QRU but all of the statistics point to a coach, in Graham, who is not up to Super Rugby. Take his whole record and the squads that he has had and that is the only available conclusion. He should go in my opinion but will not.

4. Why video ref? Why?

The usage of the video referee this season has been more prevalent and has been nothing short of a failure. Incorrect decisions, interminable delays and incongruent silence when assistance is actually needed have been hallmarks of the use of the TMO in 2014. Last night we saw, again, the use of the TMO in unnecessary, match delaying, situations and making wrong decisions. I am an ardent Reds fan but even through that lens the decision to disallow a Highlanders try for an alleged obstruction that occurred on the 50 metre line seemed like the wrong decision to me. No system is going to be perfect but one that does not delay the game and gets decisions write more often than not would be nice!

5. Will Genia: superstar!

It was Will Genia’s 100th game in a Reds cap last night and he provided the Reds faithful with probably his best performance in 2 years. I have been overt in my views about Genia’s form and probably watch him more closely than anyone else on the field at home games and I have to say last night’s effort was just a joy to watch. Take a bow sir!

6. Just kick a bl**dy field goal!!!!

Decision making has not been the strong suit of the Reds leadership of late and so, again, we saw what could best be described as garbled decision making almost cost the Reds the game. Can anyone cogently explain to me how a former test captain (Horwill) and current test vice captain (Genia) miss the obvious opportunity to attempt a field goal in the dying moments of the game. The play was set up under or around the posts for at least 10 phases before the final try was scored. Surely that made going for the field goal the better option? To me the win is more important than the glory and I would have had Harris and Lucas both in the pocket from about the 4th phase.

As I said in the preamble: this was an epic encounter. It was also a vital win for the Reds: not for their season but for their psyche. 2014 will still end as a season of much lament for Queensland players and fans but we will always have 30 May 2014.