Sparking a streaming revolution

The local sports broadcasting scene is set for a shakeup this year, with longtime telecommunications giant Spark securing rights for some of the most popular sporting events of 2019. So what will this mean for pubs, bars and taverns, some of whom rely on sports to bring in the crowds?

When the Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 20, there will be one word on the minds of the staff at Spark Sport – Floptus.

Floptus was the derisive name given to the embarrassing attempt of Optus to stream the 2018 FIFA World Cup, an attempt that proved so disastrous the Australian telco was forced to pass over the rights to public broadcaster SBS. In its first year of operation, Spark Sport is facing a huge challenge – delivering New Zealand’s most-watched sporting event on a system untested on such a scale.

“Spark Sport offers a modern and convenient way to watch sport – no long-term contract, the ability to purchase a single stand-alone sports package and an affordable monthly price,” said Spark Sport head Jeff Latch upon its release. “We think Kiwis will love being able to stream sport in high definition on a range of devices, at the time they want, with access to a range of live and on-demand coverage for an affordable price.”

What Spark Sport is yet to announce, though, is any information regarding their business packages. A spokesperson from Spark said that Spark is currently working through a process with a number of content partners to ensure that Rugby World Cup games can be watched in commercial premises. They haven’t confirmed this approach yet but will make announcements “in due course.” There is no information on whether or not venue owners will need to invest in new technology, or whether they’ll need to increase their internet bandwidth to support the streaming.

All these concerns could prove invalid, however, if the Spark Sport system fails. Spark will have plenty of time to practice, with the service having secured the rights to Premier League football, the NBA, Formula One and international hockey. While the EPL and NBA certainly draw large crowds, nothing in New Zealand sport is more significant than an All Blacks game, let alone the playoffs of a World Cup. Spark’s back up option has been revealed, and it will revert to broadcasting games on TVNZ if the streaming service collapses. TVNZ will also broadcast selected matches live and ad-free, including the opening match and the final.

The arrangement isn’t forever – Sky previously lost the rights to the English Premier League in 2013 to Coliseum Sports Media, before winning them back in 2016 – but will still deal a blow to establishments which now have to subscribe to two separate services and potentially invest in new display systems. Furthermore, Japan in four hours behind New Zealand, which means that most of the games won’t begin until 11:45 pm NZT – will anyone other than hardcore fans turn out so late to see South Africa run riot over Italy?

This leaves venue owners in a unique situation. Is it worth them investing in a whole new system that may not work, for an audience who may not turn up, when the main games featuring the All Blacks will be broadcast free-to-air anyway? Those in rural areas, already dealing with patchy internet service, are playing an even more risky game, but across the board, the shift in sports broadcasting leaves pub and tavern owners with a big decision to make.