The One Sport Getting It Totally Right For Fans This Summer
In a summer when cricket has gone backwards in terms of crowd numbers and TV viewers, one sport is sticking it to the opposition.
In years past, the problem for fans of Australia's national men's and women's teams -- the Kookaburras and the Hockeyroos -- is that the teams largely disappeared from TV screens, and the sporting consciousness, between major international tournaments like The Olympics.
You've never really been able to follow them week-in, week-out. And if you want to be really harsh, you could argue you've never had a compelling reason.
But you do now.
Hockey's new Pro League is a game-changer in every sense of the term. The Pro League is a new international league in which the world's best hockey nations compete for half the year, culminating in a finals series.
No more meaningless Test series. No dead rubbers. This is international hockey where every game matters, just like your favourite football league. And it's televised too, just like your favourite football league.
For Australian fans, it all starts at the State Netball & Hockey Centre in Melbourne, with both the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos playing the Netherlands. Blokes at 3 pm, ladies at 5 pm.
Both teams then back up and play Belgium at the same time on Sunday, before heading to Hobart and Perth later in February and then Sydney in early March. (You can check out the full fixtures and book tickets here.)
"Hockey has lacked a platform outside of the Olympics and Commonwealth Games in particular for people to see and to consider if they enjoy it," Hockey Australia CEO Matt Favier told 10 daily.
"It has been invisible to some extent."
This weekend in Melbourne, hockey will be super visible for two exciting days, and Favier has high hopes of big crowds with "Super Pass" tickets available for $50 for all four matches.
"We have ambitions that we can at least fill venues to above 4000 for the double-headers. That sounds modest compared to other sports, but for hockey, where we don’t have a recent history of big attendances, it would be a great start," Favier says.
"Hockey is one of the most family-friendly sports, the game is fast, skilful and players are remarkable athletes.
"We just want to encourage Australian fans of sport to support their national teams. Our men and ranked 2nd in the world and our women are currently ranked 3rd. They're teams we should really be proud of."
Earlier this year, a Pro League spokesman said that "the only chance that hockey gets to the next level is if we excite the general sport fan".
Matt Favier believes this process can begin in Melbourne this weekend.
"We’re driven by three main things. One, we want to make sure the match day experience has people coming back for more. Two, we want all visiting teams to have a great experience and three, we want to engage a host of new fans."
Meanwhile, after the four week swing across four Aussie cities, the Pro League will move away from Australia in what Favier calls the "follow the sun" model of games in the southern hemisphere summer, then the northern hemisphere spring and early summer.