Opinion: Auckland Rugby prove you can treat supporters as fans, not customers

If there's one thing that should be taken away from Auckland's victory in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final yesterday, it's that there is immense value in placing people over profit in sport.

Auckland fans at the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final Source: Photosport

Auckland's move to allow fans in for free to watch their first provincial title in 11 years saw over 20,000 fans witness their side's triumph, and although it's nowhere near Eden Park's full capacity, the gesture was enough to ensure an atmosphere worthy of a final.

In a time of rising house prices, rent, food costs, petrol and so many more necessities, sport falls down the list on priorities of casual fans, especially in our biggest cities.

Despite Steve Hansen's pleas for government intervention, rugby is financially secure in New Zealand, with TV broadcast revenue and lucrative sponsorship deals from the likes of AIG and Gatorade meaning the game won't go broke anytime soon.

And yet, fans are asked to pay ticket prices that are just simply unaffordable in the current economic climate - not only that, but also face a monopoly of exorbitant prices for things like food and drink once they're inside the stadium itself.

Auckland's move yesterday showed that there is value in placing the supporters ahead of any financial windfall, with chances being that those who did turn out could likely return as a paying customer next season.

A winning team will always ensure bums on seats, hence why the All Blacks and Crusaders never seem to have problem filling a stadium, but at the lower levels, the influence of supporters is worth it's weight in gold.

The sight of provincial rugby being played out in front of near empty stadiums has become far too common in New Zealand, and Auckland's move to remedy that is a welcome sight, putting the fans first and reaping the benefits in the process.

Let's just hope that it's a sign of things to come, and not just a token gesture.