Have New Zealanders fallen out of love with the All Blacks?

Clamour over a half full Eden Park almost overshadowed one of the great All Blacks performances last weekend.

Ian Foster's men ran in eight tries; notched their highest score against the Wallabies in history, secured the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th straight year - yet the sight of the Auckland fortress littered with thousands of empty seats sparked global confusion.

Has New Zealand fallen out of love with the All Blacks? Or is the COVID climate to blame?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but there are certainly lessons NZ Rugby must absorb.

Unquestionably we live in strained times. Cities remain locked down. International travel is heavily restricted. Businesses and, therefore, livelihoods have been greatly affected by the pandemic and people are generally much more discerning with their spending.

This context is important when considering how Eden Park hosted over 47,000 for the opening Bledisloe Cup Test, and little more than 25,000 the next week in the smallest crowd for a Bledisloe in Auckland since 1958.

That does not mean the decision to stage both games at the same venue was the right one, however. The disappointing turnout for the second Bledisloe was not an isolated event this season either.

This year the All Blacks were supposed to play nine home Tests. The most enticing of those were still to come - successive matches against the world champion Springboks in Dunedin and Auckland, the first of those being the huge occasion of the 100th between the two nations.

Unfortunately, both Boks Tests are now near certain to be staged in Australia, such is the fluid day-to-day landscape we exist in.

After playing six Tests last year, only two of those at home, the All Blacks kicked off their season against a severely-weakened Tongan side in-front of a tick over 15,000 at Mt Smart Stadium, usual home to the Warriors.

As has been the theme this year, NZ Rugby did little to alter their ticket prices - or introduce schemes such as kids go free - despite sales being poor well out from the match. Punters aren't silly. They saw the 102-0 rout coming and largely stayed away.

The All Blacks then played Fiji in Dunedin and Hamilton - the first of which was highly competitive but attracted another underwhelming 15,013 crowd. Many of those who didn't come to that match were waiting for the Boks in September.

With COVID cases in Sydney spiralling out of control the trans-Tasman bubble closure hit, bringing with it the challenging task of rescheduling the majority of the All Blacks season.

The Wallabies managed to sneak across the ditch on an economic exemption clause, allowing New Zealand to host the first two Bledisloe games after agreement was reached to push the third match to August 28 in Perth.

Given the Wallabies emerged from their 2-1 series win over France, the opening Bledisloe at Eden Park carried intrigue which was reflected in the strong 47,000 turnout.

With the Beervana event blocking the Wellington stadium from being used the following Friday and Saturday, NZ Rugby eventually opted to stage the second Bledisloe at Eden Park.

By this point, public apathy with the Wallabies returns and a comfortable win is expected. Punters who went the previous week are unlikely to go again, and stumping up $[NZ]80 to $220 for the casual fan is a big ask.

Scarcity and uncertainty surrounding results drive interest, after all.

A Sunday afternoon fixture in Wellington would surely have attracted a much better crowd than attempting to squeeze the same market twice, but all-powerful broadcasters no doubt preferred the 7.05pm kickoff slot which never suits families.

Despite the poor turnout for the second Eden Park Test, NZ Rugby boss Mark Robinson had this to say: "We worked as hard as we possibly could for as long as we could to have the game staged in Wellington, but ultimately because of the late change of Test schedule and the time it took us to reschedule the game from the 21st to 28th in Perth, it meant we didn't have much time to work with, so we chose Eden Park. There were a number of logistical and commercial realities around that decision, as well as timing.

"Given we had 8-9 days to promote the game and sell tickets, we were pleased we got 25,000 people there and delighted with the people that did turn out and show their support.

"Would we have liked more? It would have been nice to have more people turn up, but given all the challenges I just described we have to recognise we're living in extraordinary times and that's the result we came up with."

The upshot for NZ Rugby is they have hosted five All Blacks Tests this year - and none have sold out.

It's alarming in one sense, understandable to a degree in another.

Lessons must be learned, though. Playing three of those five matches in Auckland was a mistake. So, too, staging two in Dunedin.

The days of plonking the All Blacks in town and expecting the match to sell out, regardless of who they face, are over.

The first Test against Fiji was the perfect chance to take the All Blacks to a regional venue such as Nelson - New Plymouth would be another option but its main stand is being rebuilt.

Nelson caters to 18,000 fans for an All Blacks Test - almost 3000 more than attended the first Fijian match in Dunedin. The team visiting destinations such as Nelson builds much more goodwill in the community than staged photo ops.

Pricing is, clearly, another issue that needs to be questioned, particularly in the current climate.

Sold out All Blacks Tests won't be a notion of the past, but punters are more selective and the demographic that traditionally attends is fast aging.