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Spark lands Rugby World Cup rights in New Zealand

New Zealand telco Spark has acquired rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, along with a host of other tournaments staged by the sport’s world governing body, World Rugby.

Under the agreement with World Rugby announced today (Monday), New Zealanders will be able to stream World Cup matches from Japan and related content live or on-demand over their home broadband or mobile connection, using a wide range of devices – including televisions, mobiles, tablets and laptops. The service will offer both free and paid content and will be available to all New Zealanders – not just Spark customers.

Spark has also entered into a sublicensing agreement with TVNZ, which will see the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens, 2018 Under 20 Championship and selected matches from the 2019 World Cup screen free-to-air on the public-service broadcaster. Free-to-air coverage of the 2021 Women’s World Cup will be confirmed closer to the tournament date.

Along with the aforementioned events, Spark has also acquired rights to the 2019 U20 Championship. The 2018 tournaments will screen via TVNZ as the Spark streaming service will not yet be available. 

Spark managing director Simon Moutter said that rather than the “all or nothing” bundle that has been the approach for previous World Cups, Spark intends to offer pricing options to suit people’s differing preferences and budgets.

He added: “While we won’t be releasing pricing details until next year, I can say there will be a menu of well-priced options, ranging from individual match passes through to a full tournament package. We believe this makes Rugby World Cup viewing more accessible to many more New Zealanders than has been the case for recent tournaments.”

TVNZ will screen seven 2019 World Cup matches live –  including the tournament’s opening match and the final – the same number offered free-to-air for the 2015 competition, and a yet to be confirmed number of delayed matches. TVNZ has also pledged that advertising won’t run in live game time.

Moutter confirmed the live streaming service would not be restricted to Spark customers and would be accessible via New Zealand’s five million-plus mobile connections and 1.5 million broadband subscribers.

He said: “We will be reaching out to other network operators and providers to see how we can optimise the viewing experience for their customers. Although of course we are likely to offer Spark customers some special deals and experiences.”

Moutter also emphasised the importance of the rights to Spark’s broader media strategy. “Given how passionate New Zealanders are when it comes to watching their favourite sports, we have an ongoing interest in playing our part as sports viewing moves online as well,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re disciplined when it comes to investments of this nature. Although sport is a powerful content genre, it is typically very expensive – something we’re mindful of. For this reason, we’re focused on making sure the business case for securing rights of this nature can stand on its own two feet – and these tournaments certainly do that.”

Today’s announcement came after Sky New Zealand stated last month that it expected to lose rights to the Rugby World Cup after the pay-television broadcaster said it was not the preferred bidder for the contract to the 2019 tournament in Japan. Sky held the rights to the 2015 World Cup in England, which New Zealand won.