Midweek Fixture: Just the Spark sport needs

Section
Blogs,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 15 August 2018, 8:46PM
Getty Images
Getty Images

By: Dylan Cleaver

Spark's long-anticipated assault on the sports media market has arrived.

While that is intriguing in itself, particularly when set against the recent well-documented difficulties of sports broadcasting behemoth Sky, it is more interesting to speculate on what a fully engaged Spark Sport might look like in the medium-term future.

We now know they are cashed up enough to buy rights to sports events and leagues, but do they have the resources and wherewithal to build content around those products to become a 24/7 player. As someone who has recently lamented the way the sports journalism industry has been cannibalised, I live in hope rather than expectation.

Sky's biggest failure in the sports space was their inability to develop a Monday to Thursday strategy to complement the fabulous live content they either produced or screened Friday to Sunday.

I have spoken with senior Sky staffers about this while they acknowledge that it was a hole in their output, it was one difficult to fill without the sort of investment that would make shareholders blanch.

"We just couldn't make a business case for it," one exec recently told me.

So instead of a digital platform full of highlights clips, podcasts, opinion, social and features to complement the set-top box offering, Sky produce a diet of mostly unwatchable panel shows that have no appetite (because of "broadcast partner relationships with rugby and cricket) to offer the sort of criticism and controversy that keeps the wheels spinning on the quiet nights.

They have no journalism, apart from occasional documentaries that have, in terms of quality, been following the laws of diminishing returns.

If they had their time over, Sky might do it differently but for now eyes turn towards New Zealand's biggest telecoms provider who, with net earnings of $172 million in the first half of the 2018 financial year alone, have financial muscle on their side.

"We've developed our strategic approach after spending a lot of time looking at other players in the sports content market in overseas markets," Spark CEO Simon Moutter said. "We've carefully considered the different models and will be looking to replicate the good things other businesses have done and learn from the challenges they've had – all the while thinking carefully about how sports media fits in a New Zealand context."

Does this mean they are looking at the way overseas giants like ESPN – with Disney's bottomless pockets to dip into – or BT Sport, produce seemingly endless content across a variety of mediums?

Not necessarily, said a Spark spokesperson. Moutter's comments were more generic and were focused on delivery technology and pricing.

"We looked at a range of providers, but primarily telcos in Australia and UK, and looked at a whole range of things," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "The sort of content they played on their platform was definitely a part of that, but our learnings were much broader."

Spark must first demonstrate that they can deliver sport in an accessible and affordable manner.

Once they have done that, sports fans in New Zealand can only hope their vision is much, much grander.

--

It would not be becoming, or particularly fair, to continue a back-and-forth with sports minister Grant Robertson about the state of the country's sports funding model.

For a start Robertson does not have the luxury of the time I do when it comes to sitting down in front of a laptop and pushing out a weekly dose of "I reckons". For seconds, a divergence of opinions in the sector is not a bad thing. For thirds, at least he's engaged, something you could never accuse his predecessor of being unless there was a winning changing room and a camera close at hand. For a finish, there's nothing so annoying as a last-wordist.

Nevertheless I could not help but notice his riposte to last week's column came on the day when the resignation of Rowing New Zealand's high-performance director Alan Cotter bolstered a central point: the national sports organisations we blindly send millions of taxpayer dollars to for a short-term medal rush do not have the necessary oversight.

--

Another sport I could have mentioned in the column but didn't is swimming.
Centralised funding and the North Shore-based high-performance programmes have proved an unmitigated disaster for the sport.

Broken is about the kindest word I could use to describe swimming. To paraphrase one correspondent: Twenty-odd years and $35 million for one Olympic bronze medal.

--

John Mitchell to England… it wasn't a spoof story evidently.

The months prior to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the actual tournament and the weeks following were some of the strangest I have experienced as a sports journalist.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge in those 15 years but much of it has still been turbulent for Mitchell.

If there is one thing Mitchell must do superbly it's this: job interviews.

 THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

Minor league baseball is one of the great breeding grounds for stories; an unremitting, low-paid grind full of high- and low-hopers just wanting to get one shot at the Bigs. The minor leagues birthed a film that still appears in the perennial top five sports movies of all-time lists – the wonderful Bull Durham. This story isn't quite as cinematic, but it is a neat look into the curious journey of one minor leaguer into the big time, even if it was just for a day.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.