The "golden age" of events like the Wellington Sevens and NRL Nines may be drawing to a close, predicts AUT associate professor of sport Dr Geoff Dickson.
Last week, Wellington deputy mayor Paul Eagle admitted tickets sales for the Sevens, once a major drawcard to the nation's capital, were "grim" and made a public appeal for Wellingtonians to get behind the January 28/29 event.
But speaking to Radio Sport's Nigel Yalden, Dr Dickson suggested the decline in popularity would be difficult to reverse and not something that could be simply solved by a marketing campaign.
"For a decade or more, it was 'cool' to go to the Wellington Sevens and in a relatively short space of time, it has lost that cool factor," he said. "It essentially changed its position in the marketplace from being a party, a festival, a rave or a fancy-dress event to simply just being a rugby tournament.
"The things that become cool more or less just happen and the trick for the marketer is to not get in the way.
"Somewhere between losing that 'cool' and becoming just a rugby tournament, I think we can probably look at the decline in ticket sales."
Dr Dickson pointed at the influence of liquor-licensing restrictions and the NZ Police as factors that have forced Sevens organisers away from a successful formula and towards a more family-oriented demographic.
"It is a delicate balancing act, because you have an established clientele, who like features x, y and z, but you try to reach out to a new market, who aren't necessarily engaged with your offering.
"The risk you always run is that you potentially alienate your existing fan base, because you add features that they don't like or you take away an existing feature that that they do like in an effort to attract a new audience.
"I think reaching out to the family market was always optimistic, given the structure of the event. Two days is a long time to keep kids occupied."
Dr Dickson hinted Auckland's NRL Nines could be next to feel the pinch.
"Events, over the past 20 years, have grown, and governments have jumped on the bandwagon left, right and centre," he said.
"I'm not signaling the end of events, but we're just reaching a bit of a tipping point in the popularity of these events and it will be interesting to see what the next decade brings.
"Look at the way the Wellington Sevens is struggling and it seems the NRL Nines is not as strong as it was two years ago. You might want to draw a line between these two events and if both of them are struggling, it probably goes beyond the control of the event managers."