Not only will there be quality rugby played over the next six weeks of the British and Irish Lions tour, but the fans support will be on an epic level. A renowned ‘red army’ of fans and spectators will again descend on the small country of New Zealand.
When the Qantas flight landed at Auckland Airport midweek, the flight had the 41 players and management on-board. But on top of that, there was a hoard of supporters who aimed to mirror the length of the full tour. And it is those men, women and families who will look for entertainment and fan engagement.
— Newshub Sport (@NewshubSport) May 31, 2017
Watching the footage, the comraderie is what the British and Irish Lions fans will bring. The banter, the enjoyment of the social side just as much as men chasing a leather ball. As the legion of followers enter New Zealand (NZ), they will go forth in a convoy of camper vans, tour bus trips and flights that will reward the economy by an enormous value.
As much as that is a benefit, for the man on the street, they bring so much more. As far back as 1888 [the first Lions tour] or the official first test in 1904, they have made an impact on the rugby-nation. A special ‘tour edition jersey’ has been launched, which heralds that long relationship.
Traditional Greeting First, but How to Engage with Lions Fans?
After the powhiri; traditional Maori greeting, the giant red Lions tour bus rolled out of the airport. The throng of inbound tourists now spread the length and breadth of NZ, hoping to capture a little bit of Aotearoa. So, how does the nation intend to greet them?
Major centers have planned the tour dates, to coincide with events, and that is great. In fact, the national rugby union calls it the New Zealand Rugby 2017 Festival. Outside that, small towns will notice a ‘sea of red’ invade their towns. That is fantastic, as has been seen in Whangarei to kick-off the tour.
That begins and ends in Auckland, the largest city center, and host of three tour games. In saying that, a limitation on tourist accommodation will see fans flying in and out, using Auckland as a transit-point, to also enjoy the rest of the country.
— ATEED (@Auckland_NZ) May 29, 2017
Auckland have a planned many targeted dates, and have a multiple strategy. Visit ATEED to see the many fanzones. This also recreates the popular fan trail to Eden Park. That route will take fans from downtown, up Queen Street and along a lined path towards the stadium. With the odd tavern or cafe along the way, it will see many points for fans to engage with locals and fellow rugby mates.
Rugby Mates Open Their Homes
The traditional values too have been revealed. An aged custom of billeting has been re-accustomed. And one who has embraced that is former All Black Bruce Robertson. Opening his home to travelers, it shows how the tradition that was common in years past, can accommodate tourists.
The ex-Counties center has opened his doors, and it is a value which many kiwi families have also been kind enough to provide. They know that ‘if they are rugby fans, then they are welcome’.
And that aspect is the most critical factor. Engagement – not just profiting, as that is not what your typical rugby fan is generating. They are here to enjoy the footy, enjoy the hospitality and the meet locals. So the advice from LWOR is ‘start a conversation’. Ask to take a photo, if they are dressed up, face painted or the ever present Lion costume.
All Blacks fans are not know for their exuberance; they do not sing and dance like the Celtic fans usually do, but they are friendly and inviting. Social media is a great channel, but nothing beats shaking hands, having a laugh at the other, and at yourself.
Local Banter will Break the Serious Face of the Tour
— #RugbyNewZealand (@RugbyNZ_) June 4, 2017
Many jokes will be started, some better than others but as long as it is playful, then it will generate an engagement between the two adversaries. The challenge on the field ends there, as fans then share a beer or popular NZ wine. And the traveling fan will find themselves welcome across the country.
Results will also be crucial. With the first game under their belt, the British and Irish Lions fans have found already that the challenge is more than merely a ‘friendly game’. The large crowd on hand in Whangarei did two things: (1) they brought plenty of colour and vocal support to the tour schedule. And (2) they accept that NZ Rugby is going to match them at every level.
Visiting fans will be clear to see. Red stands out a mile away, so if you see the Standard Life Investments sponsored shirt approaching, don’t avert your eyes. Look ahead, engage and say “Kia Ora”. And if you are that visiting fan, then do pipe up and have a chin wag…..Kiwis don’t bite.
Popular Attractions – North to South
In a nutshell, New Zealand is a cosmopolitan nation, with a huge variety of options for visitors. Known for the awarded 100% Pure campaign, there is more to than on previous tours. In 1950, tourists will have felt they were in a time warp. Today, former player Stuart Barnes glowed when asked about the country.
“New Zealand now is a genuine destination. So many places, so many good restaurants and many fine wineries.”
Of course, the best way to find this out, is to visit. But for those in the United Kingdom, South Africa or Australia, a simple list follows (or visit http://www.newzealand.com/int/)
- Northland – the Bay of Islands, Ninety Mile Beach, Tane Mahuta (Waipoua Forest)
- Auckland – SkyTower, One Tree Hill [U2 song title], Waitemata Harbour, Piha Beach
- Hamilton – City gardens, Waikato River, Hobbiton, Maori art, City center
- Rotorua – Thermal Park/Pohutu Geyser, Adventure tourism, Lake Rotuiti, Fishing
- Wellington – Harbourside dining, Te Papa Museum, Parliament, Kapiti Coast
- Christchurch – Lyttleton Harbour, Avon River, Botanic Gardens, Arts & crafts
- Dunedin – Otago peninsula, Wildlife/Bird watching, Scottish heritage, Hiking trails
This is not the entire list, only the tour centers. But for many visitors who will catch the games across the country, choosing attractions away from rugby is key. A winery, a craft brewery, a museum or art center. And those fans can then engage with the locals and develop good relationships. Visit the local rugby club, watch a game, strike up a conversation. That is the rugbyunited culture .
British and Irish Lions Tour – the Super Rugby Challenge Begins
The touring Lions side will this week begin the secondary aim of the tour; matching the Super Rugby sides. In itself, a real challenge. Warren Gatland must be congratulated on his attitude to engaging the local competition. In 2017, NZ teams are dominating the Southern Hemisphere competition, so it will be a real test.
Many have said that if the Lions can beat all five franchises, but still not beat the All Blacks, it will not be a success. LWOR do not agree. The facts are–Super Rugby is arguably the toughest provincial competition. France found it difficult to beat the Blues, and Wales have been beaten by the Chiefs. It will not be easy.
So the traveling fans will be welcomed when the British and Irish Lions face the Blues. They will most likely outnumber the Auckland supporters; no disrespect. Eden Park will be bristling with red shirts, and conversely if they are outnumbered in the two tests, the difference then will be clear to see.
What will be clear, is that the visiting numbers are going to make this tour an enjoyable experience. You have to believe that those three brothers seen at the Airport who are following the team, will get one or more interviews on national TV. They might even go ‘viral’. And in today’s media-centric view, it is fantastic for the game in general.
A British and Irish Lions tour is a great reflection on the strength of the game. The local fans mixed in with the International fan entourage. A huge tour, and trust me – it is only going to become more enjoyable the longer it goes on.
“Main photo credit”