Women's rugby in New Zealand is officially growing at a faster rate than the men's game.
Buoyed by the recent success of the women's sevens team and the Black Ferns – the current world champions of the 15-player game - a Deloitte's review of the state of the sport here has revealed female player numbers increased by 2,100 female player registrations last year (up 13.7 per cent), a rise described by the review writers as "phenomenal".
It said the largest growth rates occurred in Waikato, Southland, Counties and Canterbury.
The Mitre 10 Cup unions increased their player registrations by 3.6 per cent across all age groups, with the largest increase occurring in the under-12 age group, growing by 5.7 per cent. The report's authors said it was pleasing to note that the number of players in the senior grades (21 years and over) increased for the first time since 2010.
The news comes amid the increase in the New Zealand game's coffers thanks to the British and Irish Lions tour.
After a record-setting performance in the previous financial year, the Mitre 10 Cup rugby unions built on that solid performance to deliver another record setting collective surplus for the 2017 financial year.
Deloitte partner Grant Jarrold, who is also a Crusaders board member, said a key contributor was the positive effect of the Lions tour.
"The test match fees received by the Auckland Rugby Union for hosting two of the All Black tests against the Lions at Eden Park bolstered the collective surplus for the Mitre 10 Cup unions to surpass the mark set the year before," he said.
The combined revenue earned by the 14 Mitre 10 Cup playing unions was $79.2 million for 2017, a 2.8 per cent increase from 2016 combined revenue of $77.0 million.
And yet, the report stressed the need for vigilance in terms of spending and the need to keep New Zealand rugby supporters engaged, especially those attending matches.
It noted that the broadcasting landscape, currently dominated in New Zealand by Sky Television, was changing rapidly, and that the incumbents faced challenges from "non-traditional sports broadcasting providers like Twitter, Amazon Prime and The Walt Disney Company [ESPN] bidding for sports rights".
The report also said it was important rugby supporters were given the appropriate experience when attending matches, including with technological breakthroughs, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies.
"The majority of sports interest has been focused on VR technology including 360 degree cameras in stadiums and player training programmes to recreate game situations," it said.
"The most well-known use of AR technology would be Pokémon Go which demonstrated globally, and in New Zealand, that consumers are ready and willing to use this type of technology and how easy it can be integrated into our daily lives. AR has in-stadium application potential to keep sports fans informed and engaged. Ideas include using the technology to tell you where your friends are seated in the stadium, which queue for the beer and chips is shorter, as well as providing the user with up-to-date match and player statistics, provided by the wearable technology being worn by the players on the field.
"A key aspect that needs to be considered by rugby administrators is that fans expect to be connected with their teams and provided with information related to their teams, in real time, across all devices and platforms, wherever they are. The simple question is, what are unions doing to satisfy this?"