NZ First keen to back Spark- TVNZ bid for rugby rights

Weekend Herald - - Cricket -

Andrew Alder­son

If a Spark- TVNZ con­sor­tium bids for rights to New Zealand Rugby’s matches from 2020, they can ex­pect sup­port from at least one gov­ern­ment coali­tion part­ner.

New Zealand First’s man­i­festo in­cludes a pol­icy that games of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance should be broad­cast free- to- air.

They will strug­gle to make that a re­al­ity with many pro­fes­sional sports funded through broad­cast­ing rights. Any suc­cess­ful bid­der would ei­ther have to be rec­om­pensed for an es­ti­mated loss in sub­scrip­tions. Or an­ti­si­phon­ing laws — like those used in Bri­tain, Aus­tralia or In­dia — would need in­sti­tut­ing for des­ig­nated games.

In March, New Zealand First MP Clay­ton Mitchell sub­mit­ted a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill to Par­lia­ment aimed at amend­ing the Broad­cast­ing Act to those ends.

Na­tional and Labour voted against the bill, which would have in­cluded free- to- air cov­er­age of in­ter­na­tional rugby, league, net­ball, cricket, ma­jor events such as the Olympics and Com­mon­wealth Games.

Mitchell has not given up.

“If TVNZ get to­gether with a com­mu­ni­ca­tion part­ner [ such as Spark], then you’ll have on­line stream­ing and free- to- air broad­cast­ing which would be a win- win for the pub­lic.

“Dig­i­tal plat­forms have got to be fac­tored into play. So much is done from mo­bile de­vices these days,” said Mitchell.

Sky Tele­vi­sion hold the rights to all New Zealand and San­zaar- based rugby com­pe­ti­tions, from which NZ Rugby i s es­ti­mated to re­ceive $ 70 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

Re­gard­less of any party’s in­ten­tions, the rugby rights mar­ket looks set for a re­struc­ture.

As the Her­ald on Sun­day re­ported last week, “rugby maybe hasn’t known such a world of op­por­tu­nity since 1995 and the switch to pro­fes­sion­al­ism”.

The evo­lu­tion in the way games are con­sumed means dig­i­tal and tele­vi­sion rights could be un­bun­dled and Sky would strug­gle to dic­tate the same terms.

A Spark- TVNZ bid could lend trac­tion to NZ First’s idea.

“It’s still a fair way off, but looks a good pos­si­bil­ity,” Mitchell said. “Any­where you can take away the mo­nop­oly or duopolies that ex­ist, and of­fer bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties for tax­pay­ers as a whole, has got to be a good thing.

“I’m not anti- Sky. I have Sky my­self and they do a great job, but we’ve got to en­sure those who can’t af­ford it still have ac­cess to the New Zealand sport­ing cul­ture.”

Sky use Prime for some of their sport­ing cov­er­age, but those broad- casts tend to be de­layed or punc­tu­ated by ad­ver­tise­ment breaks.

Mitchell said the ben­e­fits of open ac­cess out­weighed the costs.

“We’ve had free- to- air sport in the past and I think a big part of the obe­sity prob­lem in this coun­try is that kids feel dis­con­nected from sport.

“Noth­ing’s more em­pow­er­ing than see­ing top sports­peo­ple in­spir­ing kids to get out and do the same.

“When you have low so­cioe­co­nomic ar­eas where peo­ple don’t have ac­cess, we see par­tic­i­pa­tion rates drop dras­ti­cally.”

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