SKY'S TV stranglehold is being tested by the biggest powerbrokers in New Zealand sport.
The Sunday Star-Times can today reveal that three of the nation's "big four" sports bodies – New Zealand Rugby League, New Zealand Cricket and Netball New Zealand – are in talks with the Oceania Football Confederation over the proposed launch of a new free-to-air television channel.
And even the jewel of Sky's sporting crown is on alert with New Zealand Rugby Union chief, Steve Tew, awkwardly revealing his organisation's position on the issue which threatens to revolutionise domestic sports broadcasting.
Last week the Star-Times exposed the OFC's plan to beam more domestic sport into Kiwi homes by launching a 24-hour service to undercut Sky's pay-TV service. The OFC, who are backed by the deep pockets of world football body Fifa, have already met with at least 15 national sports organisations, representatives from the taxpayer-funded Crown entity Sport New Zealand and also free-to-air provider Freeview.
But it is their apparent attempt to splinter the nation's biggest drawcards away from Sky and mount a legitimate challenge to the satellite provider's market domination that will create the most interest around the bold initative.
The chief executives of New Zealand's national rugby league, cricket and netball organisations are all engaging with the provisional plan along with many bosses from smaller sports such as football, hockey and triathlon.
Secretary-general of the OFC and Fifa committee member Tai Nicholas – the man who last week pleaded guilty to contempt of court charges laid by the Fijian Government – invited a host of senior sports administrators and communication officials to an Auckland meeting 10 days ago.
While Netball NZ CEO Raelene Castle was invited, but did not attend, her organisation was represented in an official capacity along with representatives from NZ Cricket, New Zealand Football CEO Grant McKavanagh and Triathlon New Zealand CEO Craig Waugh, among many others.
Jim Doyle, boss of the NZRL, was not invited to the meeting – but has been given a tour of the OFC's facilities.
"I spent time with Tai Nicholas about a month ago. He was showing me all their systems," Doyle told the Star-Times.
"We certainly said we'd continue discussions to try and look at how we can show more national competitions from all over the country.
"We [the NZRL] are keen to keep a very open eye on how things progress."
Tew, whose organisation receives multimillion-dollar payments from Sky for screening rugby, including All Blacks tests, was not invited to the Nicholas-convened meeting either, but said he was aware of the plan after the Star-Times' report.
However, Tew was less keen to discuss the free-to-air opportunity – seemingly pointing to a potential conflict with the NZRU's existing broadcast deals.
"I can't answer [whether more grassroots coverage would be good for rugby] in isolation from the rest of our relationships with broadcasters," he said. "We have a very complicated relationship with the broadcast market across the world.
"You can't just talk about the free-to-air community market without considering what that would mean for the broadcasting of professional rugby and the price we get paid for it.
"Without professional rugby, there'd be no community rugby."
Following the Star-Times revealing the OFC's plans last Sunday, Nicholas – who failed to return calls and emails on the issue – emailed national sports organisations and key administrators at 5.31am that day stressing new urgency in sealing the TV channel's launch.
"I thought we agreed we would keep this information and this idea `in house' for now," Nicholas wrote.
"Anyway the information is now in the public forum which puts many interested entities on notice and provides us the incentive to move faster in establishing this channel."
Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way declined to comment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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