Success fails to yield ‘tangible’ gains

Otago Hockey chief executive Andy McLean says there is plenty of work to do for the sport. Photo:...
Otago Hockey chief executive Andy McLean says there is plenty of work to do for the sport. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Otago Hockey has gone through a growth spurt and added a long-awaited third turf, and the Otago men have won back-to-back national championships. It has been a good few years but general manager Andy McLean tells Adrian Seconi there is a lot of work to do to lift the visibility of the sport.

A third turf at King’s High School was decades in the planning.

By the time it opened in 2021, Otago Hockey was desperate for the extra space.

It helped ease the pressure on the two turfs at Logan Park and attract events to the city.

It was a breakthrough for the sport in the region.

Another breakthrough was just around the corner. The Otago men won the national championships in 2022 to claim their first title in the tournament’s 114-year history.

They backed up their 4-2 win over Wellington in the final in Dunedin with a 2-1 win over Canterbury in Hamilton last year.

But that success has not necessarily delivered the growth or profile you might expect.

Hockey Otago general manager Andy McLean said there was plenty of work to do to lift the profile of the sport.

"It was a fantastic achievement by that team, but hockey at that level does not get the coverage that some other sports get," he said.

"It is good for the association and it has certainly given people in the association a lift. It can only help us promote the game.

"But have we seen tangible and significant results out of that in terms of growth and numbers? Probably not yet."

It is not a problem unique to Otago.

Outside of an Olympic year, hockey really battles to capture the public’s attention.

"Hockey does not currently have an elite domestic competition which is broadcast and is really attractive to mainstream media and has a lot of fan engagement. Obviously, the national championship is a tournament which happens over a week once a year."

McLean said Hockey New Zealand was working hard to get the Premier Hockey League back up and running, hoping it would lift the sport’s profile.

The other significant challenge is related to the facilities at Logan Park.

The two playing surfaces have reached their use-by date and are becoming difficult and costly to repair.

The Dunedin City Council is consulting with the public on a $1 million proposal to replace the turfs and to take ownership of them.

If the proposal goes ahead, the two playing surfaces will be replaced in the 2024-25 financial year.

Otago captain Nick Ross celebrates with his team after defeating Wellington in 2022 to win their...
Otago captain Nick Ross celebrates with his team after defeating Wellington in 2022 to win their first national title in 114 years. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Challenges aside, the sport is in a healthy spot in the city.

"We have gone through a period of growth a year or two ago, but my gut feeling is this year we will be steady," McLean said, adding registrations for this year were not complete yet.

"It is early days for the facility out there [at King’s]. But it has made a huge difference in the terms of the quality of the playing experience that we can offer.

"When we had just the two turfs, we were having to have various programmes, competitions and trainings run at some pretty unappealing times of the day to get everything through.

"We can run things at better times now. And it does provide an opportunity for growth but that is going to take some time for that to feed through."

Otago Hockey has six fulltime staff and one employee who splits their time evenly between hockey and cricket.

The association has an annual turnover of $1.1 million. It reported a small operating surplus of $11,000 in the last financial period, but funding remains a challenge.

It committed most of its reserves into the turf at King’s. That set the association back $200,000.

"We had built up some decent reserves but that facility was crucial for the sport moving forward and to bring events to town.

"It was a significant project ... but it has effectively put our reserves back to square 1 and we are now looking at ways we can operate to build back a nest egg, which is important for our financial security."

Otago Hockey

By the numbers

 - There were 2600 registered players in Dunedin last year.

 - Central Otago had 930 registered players and there were 440 in North Otago.

 - There are 45 senior teams in Dunedin.

 - Otago Hockey recorded a small operating surplus of 11,000 in the last financial period.

 - It invested $200,000 in the playing turf at King’s High School.

 - It has 6 fulltime staff and one additional staff member who splits their time between hockey and cricket.

 - The gender split is close to 50-50.

 - Next week: the state of Otago basketball.