Sky NZ makes international move with $40m RugbyPass acquisition

New Zealand pay-television operator Sky has acquired a 100-per-cent stake in RugbyPass, the OTT streaming service, in a $40m (€35.9m) deal that expands Sky’s sports business internationally.

The purchase of RugbyPass, launched in 2016 by digital media company Coliseum Sports Media, is further evidence of Sky’s plans to develop its streaming operations and expand its footprint worldwide.

RugbyPass, which previously counted US-based media group Discovery among its shareholders, operates in 62 countries across the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. Its rights portfolio includes tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Sky is paying $10m in cash upfront, will issue $20m of stock and pay a further $10m based on the platform’s performance. The acquisition will close on Monday and RugbyPass will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sky.

Coliseum Sports Media was established in 2012 and subsequently attempted to disrupt the New Zealand marketplace by acquiring rights to the English Premier League, leading golf tours and French rugby union’s Top 14. However, the operations in New Zealand were wound down as Tim Martin, now RugbyPass’ chief executive, switched his focus to Asian markets.

Martin said today that RugbyPass “was created as a market disruptor to help bring rugby to a younger, internet savvy audience on a global scale”.

He added: “Rugby is a growth sport globally and we estimate there are 120 million rugby fans around the world, many of them in developing rugby markets where rugby is a secondary sport and access to content can be difficult. Providing an OTT solution gives those fans access to the content they want, and Sky’s investment in the platform will help us achieve our ambitions to service more fans across the globe.”

Martin Stewart, Sky’s chief executive, said that RugbyPass’ media channels reach over 40 million people a month and that the platform “has the ability to reach rugby fans in markets that are not currently well-served with rugby content, and a strong growth plan for more markets”.

Stewart continued: “Sky’s ambitions around growth are heavily focused on digital services and broadening our reach. We launched our new Sky Sport Now app on Wednesday, designed for New Zealand sport fans who want to access all 12 of the Sky Sport channels online.”

The lead investor in Coliseum Sport Media is Cooper and Company, the private equity firm set up by Peter Cooper, and which worked with Martin to sell a minority stake to Discovery in 2016.

The RugbyPass purchase will not lead to more rugby content becoming available to Sky’s subscribers in its home market, although RugbyPass does operate in neighbouring Australia.

Speaking at the start of this year as RugbyPass looked to raise capital to drive further international expansion, Martin said that the service had over 20,000 paying subscribers and was profitable.

RugbyPass also holds live rights to the Six Nations, England’s Gallagher Premiership, the Top 14, European Champions Cup and Pro 14.

Outside of the territories in which RugbyPass showcases its live rights, a subscription is available offering original shows, classic games and documentaries (and costs just $0.99 per month).

Additional reporting by Martin Ross