IN ITS THIRD YEAR, the Hawke's Bay Festival of Hockey is in a good place.

The event has grown markedly since it began in 2014, when a turf was completed two weeks prior, spectator seating arrived two days before play began and only six teams competed in the international Hawke's Bay Cup.

This year 32 teams will compete in three tournaments over 12 days, with organisers having to knock back other international teams.

Event creator Bruce Mactaggart said he had hoped the tournament would grow, but the speed of its international recognition had been amazing.

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"To be in a position where we're actually saying no to top international teams is outstanding. I think it has become the largest invitational hockey tournament on earth by year three and we can grow further.

"It's no single thing ... the reputation is just growing."

Event director David Nancarrow said from year one they always wanted to grow.
"I think in the two years we've been running it, despite the bad weather and lightning strikes and everything else, the players and the officials have obviously enjoyed being here and that's the KPI for me.

"I think the ambience of the tournament is great ... you've got to make the player experience and the spectator experience as good as possible."

As well as those travelling to Hawke's Bay, organisers were expecting a large number of people to tune in via live streaming.

Last year about 194,000 viewers watched live streaming of the event, clocking up a massive 22,000 hours. Without using any specific marketing strategies, it was the reputation of the event which contributed to its marked growth, Mr Mactaggart said.

"We can't underestimate the reputation it garnered in the first couple of iterations."

He said foreign media coverage was "outstanding", with teams now saying the festival had become a permanent fixture in their preparation calendar. This was particularly true this year, with six of the eight teams competing in the Hawke's Bay Cup heading to the Rio Olympics in August.

Their tournament starts today, with six teams returning from last year including defending champions, Australia.

Joining them on the turf would be two new teams, Canada and Ireland.

For those competing in Rio, Mr Nancarrow said this would be a major tournament because none of the squads had actually been selected yet.

"There's going to be some very, very good players so every game is basically a selection game for a lot of players.

"It really is Rio in your own backyard," Mr Mactaggart said.

With the festival's growth, the tournament was now at a pivotal place.

"The first year it was a race to get it done, and last year we were actually at the eight nations threshold," Mr Mactaggart said.

"So here we are now in year three, and when we review it after this year there are a number of elements which we can now start to assess and figure out what next year looks like."

This could include taking the Hawke's Bay Cup from eight nations to 12, or expanding the Furnware Cup to include international teams.

This year the invitational secondary school competition will include four teams from Hawke's Bay, Havelock North High School, Iona College, Napier Girls' High School and Woodford House.

With games starting on Wednesday they will be joined by teams from Gisborne Girls' High, Hamilton Girls' High, Otumoetai School and St Peter's School.

"What we're trying to do here just year on year is raising the bar in terms of standards," Mr Nancarrow said of the Furnware Cup.

Of the eight secondary school teams, five had qualified for the Federation Cup and Marie Fry Trophy division one secondary school tournament in September.

The festival's other competition could also face some changes in the future.

The Affiliates tournament, which begins on Monday at Park Island, is played amongst 16 diverse teams.

These include four teams coming from Australia, as well as a NZ Maori team, Indian team and seniors team.

The only thing holding the competition back, Mr Mactaggart said, was physical capacity.
"We've got the best of the world coming here on an annual basis, we're seeing growth of hockey in primary schools and secondary schools ... we then start to become constrained by the physical capacity.

"In terms of the fest we're probably limited in terms of the existing three turfs," he said.
"If we had a fourth turf teams could be training when they're not playing and around other tournaments so the generic growth is pretty much reliant on having extra turf."

Expanding the turfs, which Mr Mactaggart said was a "live possibility," meant they could begin to also expand the completion, or the festival's duration.

With a 10-year contract to host the festival, organisers were also looking forward as far as 2018 when the timing of the event might have to change to not clash with the Commonwealth Games.

Other goals included getting the world's number one ranked team, Holland, to the festival.

"Our tournament clashes with the European indoor season so it's not ideal," Mr Nancarrow said.

"But our thought process is to make this tournament so good they actually fall over themselves to come."

For those in Hawke's Bay, Mr Nancarrow said he would encourage anyone who wants to see some world-class hockey to come along to the festival.

While in the global hockey community the Hawke's Bay Cup was well known and respected.

Mr Mactaggart said he didn't think a lot of "non-hockey people" in the region understood what a big deal the event was.

"I think that's probably an issue. There's a lot of things we could do but we've also just going to stop and pause and acknowledge we're doing pretty well."