Spark digs deep for Cup, says Sky

Nelson Mail - - BUSINESS - TOM PULLAR-STRECKER

Spark will have splashed out big time to se­cure the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Sky Tele­vi­sion says.

Sky spokes­woman Melodie Robin­son said Sky of­fered to pay ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly more’’ for the rights to the 2019 World Cup than it did when it won the rights to the cup in 2015. ‘‘There­fore Spark paid a lot of money,’’ she said.

Spark spokesman An­drew Pirie re­sponded it was ‘‘very com­fort­able’’ with the price it paid and said it was not safe to as­sume RWC or­gan­iser World Rugby would nec­es­sary have plumped for the high­est bid.

‘‘What we do know is that World Rugby have stated ob­jec­tives about broad­en­ing the ap­peal of rugby be­yond tra­di­tional rugby fol­low­ers and our bid em­pha­sises how our ap­proach would give more New Zealan­ders more choice and op­por­tu­nity,’’ Pirie said.

Sky in­vestors had al­ready writ­ten off the Rugby World Cup as lost when the pay-tele­vi­sion gi­ant an­nounced last month that it was not the pre­ferred bid­der for the tour­na­ment in Japan.

That was con­firmed on Mon­day when Spark an­nounced it had se­cured the rights to the RWC, as well as the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021, this year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens and the World Rugby un­der-20 cham­pi­onships this year and next.

The con­tract for the cup was be­tween the event or­gan­is­ers and Spark, with Tele­vi­sion New Zealand play­ing a sec­ondary role, Spark said.

Spark will stream the games on­line to pay­ing cus­tomers, who need not be Spark broad­band cus­tomers, with TVNZ pro­vid­ing the free-to-air com­po­nent re­quired by the tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers.

Will more games be free-to-air?

It ap­pears not. At the last World Cup, Sky screened seven games free-to-air on Prime. Spark has con­firmed TVNZ will also air seven games free-to-air. It is un­der­stood this is an obli­ga­tion un­der its con­tract with World Rugby. If the All Blacks qual­i­fied for fi­nals matches that Spark chose to keep be­hind a pay­wall, there could be an up­roar.

What will games cost on­line?

Full pric­ing won’t be re­vealed un­til next year, but Spark man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Si­mon Mout­ter has in­di­cated a stream- ing sub­scrip­tion to the whole RWC will cost about $100. View­ers will have the op­tion of sub­scrib­ing to watch all games on­line, or to pay for in­di­vid­ual matches.

What if I lack good broad­band?

Spark says it is look­ing at a range of op­tions. These might in­clude li­cences to let pubs and clubs show streamed cov­er­age – sim­i­lar to the ser­vice Sky pro­vides to­day that lets them show Sky Sports.

Will Spark’s cov­er­age be any good?

It will need to be to avoid a back­lash. De­pend­ing on the tim­ing of the 2019 un­der-20 cham­pi­onship, the RWC may be the first tour­na­ment it of­fers as a paid ser­vice on­line, so it may be jump­ing in at the deep end.

What will be the ef­fect on Sky?

Sky in­vestors ap­pear to have al­ready priced in the loss of the RWC. Chief ex­ec­u­tive John Fel­let, who will quit within the year, has ar­gued the pre­mier rugby event isn’t a big draw­card for Sky Sports, given the big­gest games need to be shown free-to-air any­way. First NZ Cap­i­tal re­search head Arie Dekker has gone as far to say that he be­lieves the loss is ‘‘largely ir­rel­e­vant to Sky’’.

And on Spark?

It has not re­vealed how much it paid for the rugby rights, or how much it may be re­coup­ing from TVNZ through the freeto-air ar­range­ments. But given Spark will have paid the bulk of the money for the rights to the 2019 RWC, ex­pect an­a­lysts and in­vestors to be prob­ing for an­swers.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Spark is in the driv­ing seat and TVNZ in the pas­sen­ger seat for 2019’s Rugby World Cup.

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