By Harbour Heather
There’s a lot we do well in New Zealand with regard to sport, and there’s a lot of things we know we could do better. After spending five hours in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, I revisited something which I’ve thought a few times in the past few years – how we celebrate and commemorate our sports stars and their achievements could be done so much better.
Full disclosure up front. I’ve not been to the Rugby museum in Palmerston North, so perhaps it is (like most things rugby-related in our country) well-resourced and impressive. However, the Cricket Museum, as well-run and informative as it is, is small and deserves more. And while it has been a few years since I visited, the Sports Hall of Fame in Dunedin was dusty and stunted. The strongest memory I have of the place is the liniment sprayed in the locker room section, and the not quite centre aligned typed printout of Sir Richard Hadlee’s cricketing mantras.
The overwhelming sense I’ve had from all my Kiwi sports museum visits has been look, don’t touch.
Not in Toronto.
Sure, there were glass cases, floor to ceiling, housing aged jerseys, special occasion pucks, sticks and helmets, with placards explaining their significance. One of these is a “year in review” wall which showcased the highlights from the previous season – a dedication to relevance lacking from the New Zealand museums. There were shiny medals and trophies you were not able to touch. But, around the corner, you become involved in the history and future of the game. It becomes an experience.
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the NHL’s “Original Six”, are strongly connected to many of the game’s firsts, and enjoyed a dynasty in the 70s, including a run of four consecutive Stanley Cups. In appreciation, there is a full scale replica of the team’s locker room, inviting you to try on goalie pads, pick up sticks and skates, especially novel given how equipment has evolved over the last 40 years.
Next to a wall outlining hockey broadcasting milestones, you can try your hand at commentary. In a special booth, complete with replay screens and a teleprompter, you can become a TSN Sportscenter anchor, introducing the broadcast and commentating highlights.
For children young and old, there are four ‘rinks’ to test your hockey skills. On one side you have the chance to be in a shootout (against a team/goalie of your choice) and fire pucks into a video game soft screen. The other side tests your defense skills, with eight current NHL players skating towards you. Wearing glasses, gloves and holding a goalie stick, you aim to fend off the (foam) pucks fired at you, based on the direction of the players on screen. (For the record, I scored two goals, saved three and looked totally incompetent while doing so.)
The main drawcard, of course, is Lord Stanley’s Cup. Upstairs, in a heritage building crowned with a majestic stained glass dome, lies a series of plates, cups and trophies given and retired throughout the game’s history.
At the end of the room, on a stand and out in the open, is the Stanley Cup. Patrons can walk right up and touch the cup, take selfies and trace their fingers over the engraved past winners.
All of this got me thinking. The Hall of Fame is an incredible place, where history and technology are harmoniously linked and well-executed. How could we do this at home? Visitor numbers would need to justify investment. Is it a case of build it and they will come?
For what it’s worth, I believe we, as a small country, should combine resources and have one New Zealand Sports Museum/Hall of Fame. Sports fans, both local and international, are likely fans of more than one sport, so combine efforts to provide a full, all-round sports fan experience. Segmented appropriately, of course, with rugby and cricket likely to fill the most space. Olympic history would be quite substantial also. Netball, football, league – franchises and national teams – would all have their moment as well. Throw in a merchandise store and the ability to cash in on tourists increases.
The key would be to make it a destination, in a place the target market already travel to. Today, the Hall of Fame was full of Pittsburgh Penguin fans, in town to watch their team play the Maple Leafs down the road tonight. Toronto is a great city, but the attraction is no doubt heightened by the chance to visit the Hall and see the Stanley Cup. In our case, it would most likely suit Auckland or Wellington, but Christchurch or Dunedin could capitalise on their sporting weekends by running the attraction effectively.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is an exception, as it represents the entirety of a sport – international, women’s, amateur, college, and the modern franchise competition – in the country most crazy about hockey.
New Zealand would need to be weary of biting off more than we can chew. This is why I believe a pooling of resources and eliminating competition and choice for tourists’ dollars, one which embraces technology to enable history, where people are the experience, not just witness to it, is the more profitable and worthwhile option for celebrating our sporting achievements.
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