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Spark and TVNZ oust Sky with NZ Cricket rights deal

Telcoms operator Spark has landed another blow in its ongoing battle with Sky New Zealand by replacing the pay-television broadcaster as New Zealand Cricket’s domestic rights-holder.

Under a six-year agreement commencing from April 2020, Spark Sport will be the official broadcaster for all matches played in New Zealand. Public-service broadcaster TVNZ has come on board as the free-to-air broadcaster for a select number of Twenty20 international and Super Smash matches, the latter being New Zealand’s domestic T20 competition.

Spark’s contract comprises all men’s and women’s national team matches played in New Zealand; all men’s and women’s Super Smash matches; the final of the Ford Trophy, the main domestic limited overs competition; and the New Zealand Cricket Awards.

In August 2014, Sky signed a six-year extension to its agreement with NZC granting it the rights to broadcast New Zealand’s international matches and domestic competitions up until March 2020. The broadcaster’s share price dipped to a historic low in the wake of the Spark-TVNZ announcement that ends Sky’s 15-year hold on the rights.

Sky has been facing intensifying competition from the combination of Spark and TVNZ. Last month, it confirmed it would seek to renew its rights deal with Sanzaar, rugby union’s regional governing body comprising the unions of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, adding that failing to secure the contract would represent a “significant threat to shareholder value”.

Spark’s opening 2020-21 season cricket coverage will include visits from the West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia men’s team to New Zealand, in addition to the India and England women’s teams.

TVNZ will serve as the free-to-air partner for T20 internationals and the Super Smash. It will show the first T20 men’s and women’s international of each series live; two regular season men’s Super Smash matches per week and two regular season women’s Super Smash matches per week.

Spark Sport will give cricket fans access to a range of content including educational and coaching pieces, fan engagement content and review shows. Plus, Spark Sport will make available a range of highlights programmes on a free-to-view and paid basis.

Spark will also be responsible for all aspects of production for NZC, while the contract names it as the official telecommunications and technology partner for NZC, the men’s and women’s national teams and the Super Smash.

Spark chief executive, Jolie Hodson, said: “Cricket is an iconic sport that has continued to innovate. So we’re excited to announce this new partnership with New Zealand Cricket, one that cements our place as a significant player in New Zealand’s sports viewing landscape.

“This partnership with NZC is another major step towards Spark’s strategy of building a profitable sports media business that offers viewers a range of premium domestic and international sporting events over Spark Sport at an affordable price and across an array of devices.”

NZC chief executive David White hailed the new agreement as “ground-breaking” for the governing body. He added: “This is a deal which future-proofs the whole of cricket in New Zealand.

“Live streaming is the future. It allows viewers to free themselves from fixed linear schedules to watch live, delayed, highlighted or clipped content when and where they choose, and on a wide range of devices.

“Together with the free-to-air component provided by TVNZ, this accord means more cricket games than ever before will be broadcast live. It’s timely that we make this move now, at a time when more New Zealanders than ever – and especially young Kiwis, consume their sports content through digital devices.”

Today’s (Thursday’s) news has had a significant impact on Sky’s share price. Sky’s price on the NZX has fallen to below NZ$1 (€0.57/$0.63) for the first time in the company’s 21-year presence as a listed firm. As of 9.20am GMT, Sky’s share price had dropped 20.72 per cent to NZ$0.88. Sky is now valued at NZ$364.5m, compared to its market capitalisation peak of NZ$2.7bn back in mid-2014.

Sky said in a statement today: “Sky will continue to offer some of the best cricket the world has to offer, including exciting international fixtures involving the Blackcaps on tour.

“Sky’s partnership with Cricket Australia includes Blackcaps tours in 2019-20 and 2020-21, along with all men’s and women’s international matches that will be played in Australia, BCCI (India) which includes Blackcaps tours in 2021-22 and 2022-23, and the popular Indian Premier League. Exciting news is still to come on the international cricket front.”