Stadium naming rights
The growth of professionalism coincided with increasing commercial involvement in sport. For example, some companies purchased naming rights for sports grounds, including Christchurch’s Lancaster Park, which became Jade Stadium in 1998. Some hallowed sporting arenas, such as Wellington’s Athletic Park, were replaced with more modern facilities while others were transformed into family-friendly all-seater stadiums (stadiums where everyone is seated). Sports events were increasingly seen as commercial propositions and local governments competed against each other for the rights to host events and sporting facilities.
In 2002 the recently formed Cricket Players Association (CPA), a union representing first-class players, organised a strike to reinforce its claim for a pay increase. National and provincial players had been paid since the 1980s, but the CPA believed payments were too low to retain top players. From October 2002 its members refused to play matches until new contracts, granting a large pay increase, had been settled. After six tense weeks the strike began to collapse and the CPA accepted a lower pay offer.
Trade unions for players
Despite the fact that at the time the influence of trade unions was diminishing, players’ associations emerged in cricket and rugby. They used collective bargaining to significantly improve player payments and working conditions. Sometimes this process has resulted in industrial action. A players’ strike threatened to derail New Zealand cricket in 2002 and at one point the All Blacks threatened to withdraw from the 2003 Rugby World Cup in a dispute over bonus payments.
Financial challenges of professionalism
Professionalism has posed significant financial challenges for many New Zealand sports. Concerns about financial sustainability prompted the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (later called the New Zealand Rugby Union) to review its competitions. In 2005 it adopted a two-tier competition with a professional/semi-professional competition at the top level and an amateur competition, which has become known as the Heartland Championship.
The Cricket Players' Association negotiates individual contracts for New Zealand's 100-odd professional cricketers. In 2011 the country's top 20 players were paid between $72,000 and $177,000 for a six-month season. They also received $7,325 for each test match.
Social impact of professionalism
The emergence of professionalism in New Zealand sport reflected wider changes in society. Economic liberalisation, initiated by the 1984–90 Labour government and continued by the following National government (1990–99), promoted the idea that people should pay for the services they used, and individuals were entitled to receive whatever the market was prepared to pay.
However, many people were dissatisfied with the changing sporting world. Some complained they felt disenfranchised by corporate involvement in sport and asserted players were no longer loyal to their provinces. Talkback radio became a forum for venting such views. Professionalism also had an impact on schools, some of which established sports academies to provide pupils with a pathway into a sporting career.
Survival of amateurism
In the 2000s, although professionalism has significantly changed the New Zealand sporting landscape, amateurism is far from a spent force. The overwhelming majority of sporting participants in New Zealand are amateur, and ‘amateur’ values of fair play and voluntary service remain firmly entrenched in New Zealand sport.