The steam-driven CEO

Photo: File.

It was as if the chief executive had played 100 minutes of finals footie himself.

“I was exhausted,” says Bay of Plenty Rugby CE Mike Rogers, reflecting on the Steamers’ Mitre 10 championship final against Wellington at the Cake Tin. “I guess it was the drama of the 40-all scoreline at full-time. It was a special night really.”

That’s the score the devout will have etched, not the final result of 59-45 to the Lions.

“I was just incredibly proud of what they did,” says Mike. A special night, a special event and a special season.

“Going down to Wellington I had a sense that everyone had written us off. It was great we were in the final, but according to some that would be our lot. So for the guys to keep coming back and never giving in - that was something I will never forget.”

That’s why we are reflecting on a rugby match that now seems like eons ago and a loss that will forever be just that, but a loss that brings sharp focus on the future.

“It creates more challenges I guess. Success creates expectation which is not a bad thing. We have to keep the momentum of a successful season rolling. We have to continue to perform, because people expect it. And that expectation brings pressure.”

Mike’s sitting in his modest open door office at the University of Waikato Centre for High Performance at Mount Maunganui. Just across the road, the new lighting towers at the Bay Oval are creeping into the sky. They’re impressive - taller than the sticks at the Domain.

“It’s fantastic, from my point of view as a member of this community, seeing such a facility take shape.” A businessman always appreciates growth and progress. “They’re just another sign that this place is really growing up and moving forward.”

There’s success and growth in his own backyard too – the Steamers made the final, the Volcanix won their divisional championship, the under-19s finished an all-time high of fifthand other rep teams have been getting up and beating traditional foes like Waikato.

“They’re results that people care about, that our community can be proud of,” he says.

And there are the numbers – some are good numbers.

Bay of Plenty is the third biggest union in the country in terms of participation – 11,500 play the game. Only Auckland and Canterbury have more. “It shows we are important in this community. So I suppose the challenge is to take that strong foundation and grow it.”

And there are some not so good numbers.

“We don’t have the same level of resources as other regions. We have the lowest commercial revenue in the country, down there with Southland. We need to deal with that and demonstrate we do play an important role in this community. Hopefully it’ll produce organisations which want to partner us to achieve good outcomes.”

“Community” is a word the rugby boss bandies about. “First and foremost we have to cater for our community. We need to keep working with this community. We should be benefitting the community.”

Grassroots is important to Mike Rogers. “The Steamers and other rep teams get a lot of profile because they are our shop window. But equally important to us is how we deliver back to the community. We cannot forget we are a community organisation. That’s what we are all about.” Communities fill teams, ensure the growth of the game, put bums on seats and pay wages.

He’s also talking about events, games at the Tauranga Domain and results.

“The feedback from the people who went to the games at the Domain this season is outstanding. They loved it.” Clearly an intimate venue, with lots of history and tradition, captures people. “They loved the occasion and loved being part of a special event,” says Mike.

So more and more games at the Domain? “That’s part of our strategy, the evidence is clear isn’t it? We do need to develop that space and we need to keep working with the right partners.” And the boss lets slip he would soon be having discussions with city fathers about “stadia.”

“Any new facility wouldn’t just be about rugby, although rugby would certainly be part of it. But there would be so many more opportunities this city could benefit from if you have the right infrastructure.” Rugby, soccer, league, other sports, concerts – lots of benefits to be leveraged.

“And I am an advocate for all of that – we do have a vibrant, growing community so we need to give them the opportunity to be proud of what we can deliver.”

Mike Rogers is a transplanted Cantabrian who dropped by Auckland’s Northshore basketball scene before arriving in the Bay 11 years ago. He brought both his head and his heart with him. “I absolutely call Tauranga home,” he admits. “There’s just so many good things about the place.”

Like the Steamers. And while Tauranga and Bay of Plenty rugby has often been considered a little brother, it’s scrapping above its weight. “We are really up there, we have demonstrated that this season. We can compete with the best and that’s where we want to be, who we want to be and what we want to do.”

And so pretty much the day after that “40-all” Mitre 10 championship final in Wellington, Mike Rogers was planning and plotting for next year.

“We don’t want it to be a blip or a one off. We want to sustain this success and grow it.”

He owes it to his community.