Weightlifting in New Zealand has always been a small, very niche sport, even more so than in countries like Australia. This is due to population size and the prevalence of the Big Three sports, which always steal the limelight in mainstream media: rugby, cricket and netball.
But under new Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand (OWNZ) president Richie Patterson, this all looks to be changing — and fast.
“I guess I always reflect back on how I first started and how I would have loved to come into the sport,” Richie explains to The Weightlifting Platform.
“I looked back on that and thought, what can we do for our organisation? And the number one thing is the accessibility of our sport.”
With this in mind, Richie and OWNZ set about dismantling the barriers to creating a weightlifting club in New Zealand. And these days, it’s much easier — indeed, it’s actively encouraged — to join OWNZ as a club.
“Let’s invite them in, then upskill them. Teach them their referee’s pathways, how to host a competition. It’s just about getting the clubs on board first and then helping enable that and upskill.”
As in all western countries, visibility was a massive barrier to try to overcome for New Zealand weightlifting. What’s the best way to create hype around the sport to make it look appealing to outside viewers? As we all know, weightlifting, if not presented in the right way, can turn people away before they’ve even started.
These days, as Richie explains, you don’t necessarily need to go via the mainstream media to create hype.
“Now we get the ability to direct our story, we’ve got our own social [media] channels, and we can create the narrative of what we want to push out, which is an athletic sport, that’s not just for big, heavy, hairy men.”
Richie started weightlifting in 1997. He has competed in three Olympic Games, and four Commonwealth games. He won silver in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and gold in Glasgow in 2014.
Despite his many achievements, Richie is only in his late 30s, so he’s pretty young to be president of an organisation like OWNZ. And as a business owner, gym owner, and weightlifting club owner, Richie understands the significance of social media has seen the power of it first hand. Knowing how to commercialise and present the sport within a 21st-century media landscape has been a big move in the right direction for OWNZ.
After a couple of attempts at livestreaming New Zealand Nationals that was less than ideal, Richie took it upon himself to sort the problem.
“I found three old iPhones that couldn’t hold a charge unless you kept them plugged in. I put one to the side of the platform one in front of the platform and then I put my one on a gimbal so it was like a roaming camera out the back. I linked in a microphone. So basically I become the switcher, the commentator and video person.”
From this one initiative, OWNZ generated 70,000 viewers (and 250,000 viewing minutes!) for a secondary school event.
“We struggled to get sponsors on board because of … only 50-100 people turning up to the competition, and that has no value to it, but the social reach of 70,000 viewers and 250,000 minutes becomes a really valuable prospect.”
However, after his initiative, Richie was able to approach potential sponsors and say “look, we’ve got a really good product here. I could run adverts through there, we could have watermark sponsorship logos.”
From this little mock-up run by one passionate man that wanted to get the sport viewed by a greater audience, it has now turned into full-scale production, as the OWNZ recently sold broadcast rights to Sky Sport. With that investment, they can employ professional broadcasting crews with commentators, about five professional photographers and much more for their Nationals.
“If we can create good content, our athletes will deliver the message.” Richie this believes wholeheartedly.
Richie is hoping that with his push in New Zealand, he can challenge other nations like Australia to pick up their game and match New Zealand for innovation.
If you don’t already, it’s worth following the OWNZ on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Their livestream of New Zealand’s 2019 Nationals is up on YouTube and we would highly recommend you go check it out.