Sky TV set to suffer another major sports blow

NZ Herald Staff,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 16 May 2018, 7:49p.m.
Spark has previously been a player in this market. (Photo/ Getty)
Spark has previously been a player in this market. (Photo/ Getty)

Spark's encroachment into the sports viewing market in New Zealand may have taken another significant step, with the potential acquisition of the English Premier League rights.

The telecommunications giant secured the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup earlier this year, and it is believed they are also about to secure coverage of the world's most popular football league.

The Herald understands that Spark is close to grabbing the rights to the EPL from the start of the 2019-2020 season, for a three-year period.

It means that football fans who want to follow the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - as well as Chris Wood at Burnley - may have to sign up to Spark's service from next year onwards.

If Spark's acquisition is confirmed, it will be viewed as another blow for Sky Television in the sports arena.

The pay TV network broadcast the EPL for most of the last two decades, aside from a three year period when internet sports streamer Coliseum Sports held sway (2013-2016).

While EPL matches don't attract audiences that are comparable to Super Rugby or the NRL — partly because of the unfriendly viewing times — they have been a vital part of Sky Television's portfolio.

It's the highest profile football league in the world, that provides tons of coverage across a week, for most of the year.

SKY could lose another sport from their offerings. Photo / Dean Purcell
SKY could lose another sport from their offerings. Photo / Dean Purcell

On the previous occasion that Sky lost the EPL rights in 2013, there was a significant reaction in the football community.

While some fans enjoyed the varied content provided by Coliseum, others struggled with the technology and New Zealand's notoriously inconsistent internet speeds were also an issue.

The potential Spark deal would continue a pattern in other markets of telecommunications companies leveraging the EPL to increase their sports content and build their customer base.

In Britain, BT Sport has held rights to some EPL games since the 2012-2013 season, and their coverage has grown significantly since then.

Optus currently has the broadcast rights in the Australian market, after a huge US$150 million ($218 million) bid in 2015 took them off Foxtel.

The New Zealand rights for the 2016-2019 period was secured by Doha-based beIN sports, a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera network.

However, beIN Sports' main focus was setting up an Asia-Pacific Premier League hub, with New Zealand just a small link in the coverage to the region.

But beIN failed to secure some big markets, including Australia and decided to on-sell the local rights, which Sky picked up.

Spark has previously been a player in this market.

In December 2014 they formed a joint venture with Coliseum — Lightbox Sports — and hosted EPL coverage for the remainder of the 2014-15 season and the following campaign.

When contacted by the Herald a Spark spokesperson said they "couldn't comment on speculation or any potential negotiations".

Sky Head of Sport, Richard Last, issued the following statement: "We have not had the EPL rights for five seasons now.

"The rights are currently held by beIN Sports, who deliver them to New Zealand fans on a special tier on SKY's platform. We know beIN have the rights for next season. We are not the current rights holders, nor even the next most recent rights holders so really cannot comment any further."

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