Is Sky's hold on sports rights really so bad?

  • Opinion
  • October 5, 2016
  • Sam Aldred
Is Sky's hold on sports rights really so bad?

For a sporting body that fronts one of the most successful teams in world sport, in the midst of a record-breaking run of victories, the NZR is having a bit of a tough time of it at the moment. While there are certainly some problems with the broader issues that seem to surround rugby, there also remains a grudging backlash against Sky as the sole broadcaster and a general perceived cosiness in the overall relationship between the two organisations. 

One year into a five-year deal the All Blacks aren't going to be heading anywhere else for a while and I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing.  In many respects New Zealanders now have it pretty good, a sole home for rugby and now with the addition of FanPass to the Sky mix, viewers can sign up for a game or a month at a time as well as the usual satellite subscription.  

All the games, at a flexible price, so what's the problem?

Mostly I think it's simply a brand problem. Both organisations do a good job of broadcasting and maximising the value of the rights but they do give off a large, successful, wealthy, faintly dull vibe and the public rather wants a something else. The trouble is there isn't really a realistic something else on the horizon.  

The Coliseum Sport Media (CSM) team, which launched with such a fanfare three years ago after securing the EPL rights, have now exited their local obligations and moved offshore.  

The new plan is RugbyPass, a home for rugby for the 2 billion people living across Asia. It's an exciting venture and Asia offers the scale, which ultimately made New Zealand a difficult place to return meaningful profits.

While they could return to New Zealand again the same problem remains.  CSM would need to write a huge cheque and then effectively monetise a single property over a number of years while offering the public the same monetary and production value.  

With Lightbox Sport currently missing in action, Spark seems a long way from realistically bidding for sport rights and at any rate they might find themselves bound by similar obligations that the Commerce Commission may put on Vodafone and Sky.  If, as Spark have requested, rights have to be offered at a wholesale rate to other ISPs, the value of any bid Spark could make would be negated by its non-exclusiveness. Still worth a $100M punt?

Longer term bets are on the tech companies to start moving into sport, Twitter's recent investment in live NFL games looks to be a success and although they've not made any moves to date Facebook will likely come out to play as their Live platform develops. However, given the cost of sports rights it’s questionable if either entity would see a return on the investment with simply an advertising play; just ask TVNZ management if they fancy a crack...

A more likely solution is a replication of the type of model that Cricket Australia use with the core rights sold on to a broadcaster (likely to be SKY, sorry haters) but a portion (perhaps mobile only) retained to be exploited in-house with a direct-to-consumer play. With the addition of free content dynamically cut up and presented across various social media channels to drive casual interest, the NZRU could achieve a higher financial return and more effectively maximise their audience. 

The full picture might be a few years away but there is a switched-on digital team at the NZR and expect the evolution to trickle up from the smaller codes and properties as the rights become available again. In the meanwhile you can curmudgeonly enjoy everything at a reasonable price.

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