Story: Amateurism and professionalism

Page 4. Growth of professionalism

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Stadium naming rights

The growth of professionalism coincided with increasing commercial involvement in sport. Some companies purchased naming rights for sports grounds, with Christchurch’s Lancaster Park becoming Jade Stadium in 1998. Some hallowed sporting arenas, such as Wellington’s Athletic Park and Dunedin’s Carisbrook, were replaced with more modern facilities, while others were transformed into family-friendly stadiums in which everyone had a seat). Sports events were increasingly seen as commercial propositions, and local governments competed against each other for the rights to host events and build dedicated facilities such as velodromes for cycling.

Cricket strike

In 2002 the recently formed New Zealand 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 in New Zealand society 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 the New Zealand Rugby Union) to review its competitions. In 2005 it adopted a two-tier competition with a professional/semi-professional competition for the top 14 provincial teams and an amateur competition, which became known as the Heartland Championship, for the other 12.


The Cricket Players' Association negotiates individual contracts for New Zealand's professional cricketers. In 2018/19 the top 20 male players were paid between $100,000 and $236,000. They also received $9,000 for each test match, $4,000 for one-day internationals and $2,500 for Twenty20 internationals. Players in the domestic first-class competitions were on retainers of between $27,000 and $53,000, with roughly proportionate match fees.

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 1990–99 National government, promoted the idea that people should pay for the services they used, and that 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. Some schools established sports academies to provide pupils with a pathway into a lucrative sporting career.

Survival of amateurism

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.

How to cite this page:

Geoff Watson, 'Amateurism and professionalism - Growth of professionalism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Geoff Watson, published 5 Sep 2013