I may be somewhat tainted in my viewpoint, but from where I sit, nothing brings people together and nothing contributes better to our social wellbeing than sport. It is the universal glue that binds us and defines us as a community.

Through sport we come together, participate together, celebrate together, learn together, develop new skills together, win together, suffer defeat together, are healthy and active together and have fun together.

The sports sector has never been great in telling its story of what a massive contributor it is to our community, but we are getting better thanks to a growing understanding of the need to collect robust data and information, plot trends and tell ‘good news’ stories that all contribute to the value of sport.
Sport New Zealand has led this information surge from the national level, and supported by Sport Hawke’s Bay we are starting to get a true picture of how sport contributes, and what!

Last year Sport NZ released national data delivered through a major study by Lincoln University into the value of sport. The study showed that the sector’s contribution to national GDP was substantially greater than first envisaged, with an estimated value of $5.2 billion. This study showed that sport and active recreation results in gains in productivity and health benefits valued at an additional $1 billion. And when the personal benefits of participating in sport was added (including the value of volunteerism) the overall estimate of the sector to New Zealand was $12.2 billion.

Sport and recreation in Hawke’s Bay are valued by young people, with 92% of 5-17 year olds taking part in at least one sport or recreation activity over a year.

In Hawke’s Bay 93% of adults take part in at least one sport or recreation activity a year. Our region boasts 32,903 sport volunteers, according to the study, all contributing in their own way to our social wellbeing.

The contribution to regional GDP (including volunteered services) is estimated (based on 2008/2009 data) to be $179.6 million or 2.8%. Personally, I think this is a little low, as the study did not really take account of the direct economic benefit of sports events, which bring visitors to Hawke’s Bay. Sport Hawke’s Bay estimates this benefit to be around $40 million per year.

Sport as entertainment

Recently Sport NZ produced a new study which looked at the importance of sport from an entertainment perspective. Sport, whether at the community/participation level or as a spectator activity, must compete with other entertainment and therefore the discretionary dollar. So it is important that we understand how it stacks up.

The ongoing study, carried out by Australian research company Gemba, looks at 230 online surveys for 52 weeks across three age-group bands with a focus on capturing the passion levels of participants on a 1-5 scale. Those of particular interest are the ‘Fanatics’, whose passion levels score 4 and 5 on the scale. These devotees and eternal optimists are the people who will form 90% of sport ‘members’, consume 80% of merchandise, be 70% of event attendees and account for over 75% of sponsor awareness figures. So they are an important group to stay connected to!

For Hawke’s Bay, the survey showed that movies/DVDs, according to the Fanatics, occupied our attention as the #1 entertainment, with rugby at #3 and League at #5, although it should be noted that this first set of data was collected during the Rugby World Cup era (live music concerts scored #2 and theme parks #4). Within the entertainment sphere, sports such as squash and bowls were perceived as ‘Losing Relevance’ along with opera and ballet. Sports such as snow sports, Twenty20, and football – along with live comedy and electronic games – were perceived as being ‘On their Way Up.’ The report also showed that equestrian and yachting occupied the top two spots as perceived ‘Exclusive’ forms of entertainment.

Nationally, looking only at sports, the top five ‘passions’ in order for 16-24 year olds were rugby, football, League, snow sports and marine fishing. For 25-44 year olds, football dropped to #4, with V8 Supercars in at #5. For the older 45-64 age group, V8s and football dropped off the passion list, to be replaced by the more traditional cricket and netball. In Hawke’s Bay, according to the Fanatics, rugby, League, V8s, cricket and marine fishing occupied the top five sporting passions.

The data from the Gemba research is plentiful, and provides sports administrators and marketers with plenty of work ahead, if they are to change perceptions and grow their sports.

Sporting in Hawke’s Bay

Here in the Bay we are fortunate to have an amazing array of sporting opportunities to act as a catalyst to draw people together and to contribute to ‘social wellbeing’. Our top five sporting passions, with the exception of V8s, are on our doorstep, although even here a trip to Taupo, Hamilton (for the moment), Hampton Downs or Pukekohe probably does not feel like a chore.

Rugby is at the very heart of our community. We are heartland New Zealand and it is in every facet of our community, from the likes of Wairoa Athletic in the North to Dannevirke in the South, from Rippa Rugby to the mighty Magpies, from Park Island to Elwood Park. It is in our bloodline. And on the back of the All Blacks and the successes of our own provincial heroes it is growing both as a participation and spectator sport. McLean Park has certainly become the place to be for a growing band of Hawke’s Bay teenagers, both boys and girls, to watch the game, hang out with their mates and generally have fun!

Netball remains the Bay’s biggest sport. With development of the 18 court facility at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Sports Park, there is opportunity to grow further. In fact, sports facilities in Hawke’s Bay have been a major driver in growing sports participation, and therefore contributing to the broader aspects of social wellbeing – not just as a driver for physical activity and health, and keeping kids occupied (although these are cornerstones of social wellbeing), but as destinations to connect people together.

While only half complete, the HB Regional Sports Park is now achieving over 150,000 ‘visits’ a year. And with junior football now joining netball, cross fit, touch, senior football and athletics at the Park, this will grow significantly over the next 12 months. Add to this the potential new hockey development and the RSP will be the major outdoor sporting destination for Hawke’s Bay. Added to this, the magnificent Pettigrew Green Arena, with 260,000 visits per annum, McLean Park and Park Island, together with an array of other sporting infrastructure, and it can be seen that we are blessed with great facilities.

One only has to be at Park Island on a Saturday morning and experience the horrors of trying to get a car park, to know that sport is big in Hawke’s Bay. In fact, if you want to experience a microcosm of the community, it is worth striking up a few conversations with parents on the sideline at junior football. You will find solicitors, butchers, bakers, bankers … although probably not the candlestick maker! Sport does that. It cuts across society like nothing else.

Facilities like the mountain bike parks at Eskdale and Pukeora (CHB), the Hawke’s Bay Cycle Trails, Hawke’s Bay Equestrian Park, Hawke’s Bay Racing Centre, Clive River, A.W Parsons Centre (CHB), Wairoa Community Centre, Sk8Zone, Super Strike, Romanes Drive BMX, Kiwi Adventure, Te Mata Park all add to the sporting and recreational infrastructure. Add in the magnificent Hawk Bay itself, a mecca for yachties, waka ama and recreational fishing alike. We also have one of the largest networks of fitness centres in the country, important when it is understood that ‘Gym Workouts’ rated ninth on the list of sporting passions.

Hawke’s Bay has the lot, and nothing pulls a community together more effectively through its rich vein of entertainment, physical recreation and fun.

There are often comments that sport gets more than its fair share of the funding pot and that the sector is greedy in its constant demands for better and bigger facilities. However, we have to remember that the growing challenges our community faces are experienced just as much by the sports sector, and still the increased community demand for new facilities continues.

Despite the Pettigrew Green Arena, there is an agreed dearth of indoor facilities and it is universally agreed that the swimming-pool stock in Napier and Hastings is pretty poor and a regional solution needs to be found.

At the community level, where those 32,903 volunteers are working even harder to provide an increased level of service demanded by their clients, some challenges remain. The growing costs of sports participation, hand-in-glove with the over-reliance on charitable gaming funding, remains at the fore. Transport and the need to develop more confident and supportive adult leadership are also flagged as major barriers to keeping people, particularly our kids, active through sport.

The contribution of sport to regional wellbeing is a critical component of our society. But we are always on the lookout for more people with that fanatical passion!

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