Sport has the rare and valuable magic of uncertainty in an otherwise formulaic world, as the All Whites proved again today
And that, my compatriots, is why sporting rights – and sports teams – have been central to Rupert Murdoch's success in building several television empires. A sit-com or drama can engross us, current affairs can change the way we think, but only sport is electric, as we saw in South Africa early this morning.
The All Whites exhilarating equaliser against Slovakia with mere seconds to go – the last attack of the game – will become a moment in time, although its significance in sporting history will depend on what use football bosses in this country make of it in coming months and years and, indeed, how the All Whites play in their next two games.
In building Sky, Fox and even Star in Asia Murdoch relied heavily on sport to bring in the viewers, especially early on. I remember an interview in the 1990s (in the New Yorker, I think) with one of his senior executives, which explained why he had invested so heavily in baseball rights and even the LA Dodgers.
This executive said simply that sport is the only truly unscripted thing on television; reality TV was in its infancy, but even that is so staged that it doesn't compete.
There's a formula in most anything created for media, but with a game of something – be it football or tiddliwinks – you have an event whose ending is unknown. Even the longest of outsiders can grab a goal in the dying seconds.
Sport can offer comedy or tragedy, heroes and villains, the thrill of the chase and the great climax... heck even an often tedious game like the one this morning had all those elements. Sport is wonderfully, magically uncertain and people will pay for that to enliven their workaday world; just look at Sky here in New Zealand.
Sport also has the potential to be a shared experience. As television has fragmented in recent years that's increasingly rare, and therefore valuable. People can come together excitedly and positively round a sporting event, or any sort of competition, in a way that little else can match.
I remember the '82 World Cup squad from my childhood – names such as Steve Wooddin, Adrian Elrick, Bobby Almond, and of course Wynton Rufer. I remember the poster on my wall. And I remember the rush of it all, even though I didn't play football.
Yep, sport has a special thrill, so well done the All Whites.
Rikki Herbert and his team leaders have also offered a great example of management... "know your limitations, play to your strengths" is a pretty clever strategy if you can do it right. Against a run of better teams, the All Whites have been sticking to a game plan that suits them rather than their opponents.
It's based around dogged defence and a lot of route one play, making use of high balls and big men up front. It ain't pretty, but it's working.
And it's a lovely reflection of New Zealand. We don't have the flair, the pace, the ball control of many, so we play to our national strengths of never say die determination and guts. And who needs flashy when you've got guts.