As the 20th century progressed, opposition to professional sport and to links with gambling gradually receded. New Zealand’s Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) opened its doors in 1951, in an effort to control widespread and unregulated betting on horse racing. It was the first off-course betting agency in the world.
Although the location of premises and the extent of racing information that the TAB could supply to punters were initially strictly controlled, betting came to be seen as a normal rather than a clandestine activity. From 1996 the TAB extended its activities to allow betting on team sport.
Improved international air travel and communication from the 1960s enabled more New Zealand sportspeople to compete and earn professionally overseas. Of particular note were Denny Hulme, Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren in motor racing; Ronnie Moore and Ivan Mauger in speedway; and Bob Charles in golf.
Professional attitudes, as well as different training and coaching methods, gradually filtered back to a still predominantly amateur New Zealand sporting culture that sometimes struggled to accept them. Professional cricketers, such as Glenn Turner and to an extent Richard Hadlee, had periodic confrontations with the conservative administration of New Zealand cricket as they sought to pursue careers in England.
Rugby union refused to make any concession to professionalism until the early 1990s, prompting a steady trickle of players to defect to professional rugby league opportunities in Australia and England. Only in 1995 did rugby union join the other major sports in fully embracing professionalism.
Athletics recognised professionalism in 1981. By the 2000s elite athletes in a range of disciplines were being supported financially by High Performance Sport New Zealand, which provided financial assistance for coaching, technology, facilities and grants to sportspeople in six Olympic sports plus cricket, netball and rugby.
From the 1990s professional trans-Tasman sporting competitions emerged, which heightened public interest and widened professional sport. In 1995 a New Zealand rugby league team, the Warriors, joined the Australian Rugby League competition. The next year Super Rugby began involving five New Zealand teams playing Australian and South African teams.
A New Zealand team played in Australia’s National Soccer League (NSL) from 1999, and since 2004 has played in the A-League. The New Zealand Breakers joined the Australasian National Basketball League in 2003, and five netball teams from New Zealand participated in the ANZ Trans-Tasman Championship from 2008 to 2016.
International competitions also emerged, bringing a new professionalism and interest to some sports. These included the World Netball Championship (from 1963), the Cricket World Cup (from 1975) and the Rugby World Cup (from 1987).
In the drive to professionalise sport, teams were given catchy nicknames in place of their geographical labels. National teams became Black Sticks (hockey), Silver Ferns (netball), Black Caps and White Ferns (both cricket), Black Sox and White Sox (both softball), Black Ferns (rugby) and Tall Blacks (basketball). They all imitated the long-established All Blacks. Meanwhile local teams took names including Highlanders, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Aces, Stags, Firebirds, Wizards, Volts and Mystics. It is unclear how such marketing affected support.
Effects on spectatorship
The proliferation of international professional sport on television, especially following the introduction of Sky’s pay television service, with dedicated sports channels from 1992, encouraged some people to watch sport on television rather than attend.
Extreme sports, ice hockey, kayaking, korfball and snowboarding are among many sports that have benefited from exposure to a wider audience. But the lack of sport on free-to-air television potentially limited audiences, and the major sports began to keep patrons watching by promoting new forms of their games, such as sevens rugby and Twenty20 cricket.
Attendance at games dropped from pre-television days. At the older grounds the standing banks were eliminated, and they became all seating. Elsewhere new stadiums were built. Prices rose and there were increasing privileges for members. Arguably traditional team sports such as cricket and rugby did not have quite the spectator following they once had.