All Black haka debate... ask the fans, says branding expert

01 November 2010

A Kiwi branding expert is calling for countries opposed to the All Black haka before rugby tests to simply ask homegrown fans if they want to see them or not.

The University of Auckland Business School's Dr Mike Lee says scathing criticism from Sunday Times' journalist Stephen Jones that the haka is "the instrument of the worst kind of sporting arrogance" smacks of an inferiority complex that Britain doesn't have its own war dance to perform.

"If some countries think it's such a big deal, why don't they just ask ticket purchasers to vote on whether they want to see the All Blacks do the haka live before a game or not," Dr Lee – a senior lecturer in marketing – says.

"I'm sure such a survey would be easy enough to carry out, since all tickets are purchased through a computer-mediated environment, and all contact information is kept in databases. Before payment, ticket purchasers could be asked 'Would you like the All Blacks to perform the haka?' They'd then simply click 'yes' or 'no'.

"That would surely settle it once and for all... let the rugby fans decide for themselves. As a side benefit, it would probably engage the game-goers even more. In fact, I'm surprised this sort of consumer-based interactivity isn't encouraged in more live performances in general.

"However, I'd be dumb-founded if fans around the world voted against the haka being performed, as it's a much-loved spectacle that always gets the crowd motivated."

The haka is a key aspect of New Zealand culture, particularly rugby, hugely important to Maori culture and a mainstay of New Zealand branding in general, Dr Lee says.

"I think rugby fans would welcome it if more teams had a similar act of patriotism and cultural expression before each game," he says.

"Tickets to the opening game of next year's Rugby World Cup match between the All Blacks and Tonga have easily sold out, not only because of the sporting competition during that match-up, but also for the spectacle of both teams doing their war dances beforehand.

"Just thinking of that opening match is enough to make the hairs on my neck prickle, and I'm pretty sure no one in that stadium would want those pre-game war dances banned."

Dr Lee says for international fans of rugby, the All Black brand is pretty much defined by three components – being constantly the best team in the world, wearing the all-black uniform and performing the haka.