I’m excited to send out an NZAFF mid-year update with all of the goings on from an exciting Football season. This was all capped off by back-to-back weeks of our game being featured on Sky Sport Next (viewed by thousands across New Zealand) through the Kiwi Bowl and Flag Nationals.
For those of you that I haven’t previously spoken to, I’m Andrew Fraser, and I took over as Chair of NZAFF after the last AGM. I’m currently Chief Revenue Officer at Vend, and focus more on the financial/commercial side of things on the Board. It’s been a while, but I played for the Waipuna Sharks in the Auckland comp back in the day, and am a die-hard Carolina Panthers fan.
It’s certainly been an eventful 2020, with Covid casting a wide shadow. Our 2020 Flag Nationals were postponed a week prior to Level 4 lockdown, and we needed to make major changes to the sport due to the amount of shared gear amongst clubs. We were really impressed with the contribution made by clubs and regions to remedy this - AFW didn’t hold a contact season this year, with a Flag competition run earlier in 2021; AFA’s contact season was shortened and junior grade cancelled; AFC’s contact season went ahead with minimal equipment sharing.
This reinforced the need for a more sustainable equipment strategy for clubs, specifically around helmets - critical equipment both to avoid sharing due to Covid, but also due to health and safety around concussions and brain safety. We surveyed clubs to understand the number of fit-for-use helmets vs. playing numbers, and NZAFF invested ~$35,000 in the game to bring 75 helmets into New Zealand for use by clubs.
This year, three clubs received helmets - South Auckland Raiders, Papatoetoe Wildcats and Western Wolves (coincidentally the Raiders and Wildcats swept the Auckland contact competitions this year). These helmets were considered a loan until each club completed specific tasks including the Coach certification requirement - all conditions have been met on this - thank you clubs. This is an initiative we want to keep going - for the foreseeable future, the Board commits to ensure every player has safe kit, with pathways in place to individual ownership. As a general guide - clubs should be trying to implement a policy for personal equipment that sees Premier players owning their own equipment if they have played more than two seasons. The loan gear should be focussed on the other grades where we are trying to encourage greater participation.
In addition, the clubs have been notified that, if the club or any of the players want to purchase helmets, pads or pants, NZAFF will subsidise this to provide a 40% discount. This brings the prices down to almost the equivalent price as the US dollar price - around NZ$200-250 per helmet. This is a great opportunity for players who have played a few seasons to get their own equipment. To make sure we are getting the best pricing and paying the least amount for shipping, we need to be placing orders at the end of June. If you are interested in this, let your club know, or if you want more information, contact our GM, Russell (email@example.com).
We also provided Club Grants to all clubs in 2021, based on player safety reporting, coach development and using the Sporty club registration. These will be finalised this month and clubs will have the option of utilising the grant to purchase more equipment with a 40% discount or having the funds deposited into their account. This will be a core part of NZAFF funding going forward - we want to contribute to the growth of the game, while ensuring safety, coaching and governance are prioritised.
While on the topic of safety, it has been great to see the improvement in player safety reporting over the past year. It is important for our sport to be able to share productive facts both year on year, and when compared to injuries in other sports. When we do this, we are able to give confidence to new players and parents. This is the reasoning behind having qualified coaches especially for safe tackle. In addition, in January this year, a Zoom session was held by Dr. Doug King, focused on head injury/concussion awareness and prevention. It was very informative and I would recommend checking it out on the NZAFF website under the Coach Development and Player Safety headings.
As mentioned before, we’ve seen some fantastic events this year that have spotlighted the game. We’ve just completed the Flag Nationals, and have seen huge growth in that side of the game - four years ago 5 teams competed, while this year 24 teams competed! Overall the competition was extremely successful - we had 70 games over two days on five fields, ably supported by eight neutral referees. We also had two new grades with Women and Youth Trophies. Big shoutout to our new champions - Metro Lions in the Men’s comp, Hamilton Hawks in the Youth Comp and Papatoetoe Wildcats in the Women’s comp (after the unfortunate disqualification of the two finalists due to using ineligible players).
Finals Day for the Flag Nationals, as well as all three Kiwi Bowl match-ups, were broadcast on Sky Sport Next. I was extremely proud of the quality of product on show, and also the quality of production, including fantastic commentary from Willie Lose and Marc Peard. Initial viewership numbers have been very strong, including the following numbers for the Kiwi Bowl:
- Over 10,000 views (double viewership from last year’s Flag Nationals)
- Over 5,000 unique watchers (1.5x last year)
- 2,000 total hours watched (3x last year)
This is a great way to continue to get the sport out to the public, and we are keen to see how viewership does grow over time - initial feedback from Sky has been that viewers loved it, and that it rated higher than other sports with our reach/profile. It’s also a great way to attract sponsors to the sport, as seen by the contributions of the TAB and Sky City to the programme (including Andy’s Burgers MVP awards for all key games). We are meeting with Sky Sport soon to align on how to continue to grow this stream going forward.
Lastly, although this is the downtime for players and games, it’s a great time to get busy with the club. As mentioned previously the Club Grants can be used to purchase gear for next season. The intention is to get all the orders together before mid-year and order from the USA with plenty of lead time for shipping to get the lowest rates. The equipment subsidy of 40% is also available to players that want their own safety equipment (e.g. helmets, pads, leggings etc.). Interested players should work with your club to order. Other equipment - gloves etc - can also be ordered and will possibly get a discount from the supplier should our order be large enough to qualify. Also, this is a great time to be applying for grants from gaming trusts and other bodies. They like to see that they are not fully funding equipment, so with NZAFF providing the 40% discount it is a good reason for them to grant funds. If you need a quote or any assistance with funding get in touch with Russell.
Thank you all once again for a marvellous 2020 season. I look forward to chatting further over the next few months - please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll also be sending out a survey early next week to help prioritise our work over the next 18 months. Thank you very much, and stay safe.