The upcoming Anzac rugby league test is the latest major sports event to be in danger of not being broadcast in New Zealand.
With just 12 days to go before the test, in which Sonny Bill Williams is expected to make a return to the Kiwis, league fans face the prospect of a TV blackout with negotiations between pay TV network Sky and the New Zealand Rugby League dragging and with one well-placed source suggesting to the Sunday Star-Times that they had broken down entirely.
But Phil Holden, the chief executive of the NZRL which holds the New Zealand rights to the test against the Kangaroos in Canberra on April 19, and Sky spokesperson Kirsty Way both denied that last night. However, Holden admitted he was also in negotiations with free-to-air network Maori TV to broadcast the test.
The impasse with Sky follows the late agreement reached between Sky TV and the newly formed Australian Rugby League Commission over New Zealand rights to the National Rugby League competition. Netball has had similar problems in sealing deals with Sky.
Holden said he was still confident of getting a broadcast deal and confirmed the NZRL was also in negotiations with Maori TV.
"I am confident that we're working through this and even as late as Friday night there was still communication between the three parties," he said. "I am not perturbed at all."
But already the delays are having an impact on promotion of the test. It is not listed in SkyWatch's April magazine and hasn't appeared in any of the network's promotional clips.
Way said Sky was still hopeful of securing the rights for the test.
"We don't have the rights," she conceded, "but we're in discussions to get them and they are ongoing at the moment.
"It is certainly not our desire to have this go down to the wire, but sometimes they do." Meanwhile, the NRL's new CEO David Smith and Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant are making a flying visit to Auckland today.
They will attend this afternoon's game between the Warriors and Rabbitohs at Mt Smart Stadium and tomorrow will have meetings with both the Warriors and NZRL.
Last week Smith visited NRL clubs based in western Sydney and raised the prospect of providing additional resources to secure the game in its heartland area as it takes on the growing threat of Australian Rules.
It would not be surprising if the Warriors and NZRL asked for similar backing to keep the game strong in Auckland and beyond.
The battle between the rugby and league codes in Auckland has intensified with the New Zealand Rugby Union recently announcing that they see the northern city as a key area of new growth.
The improving performances of the Sir John Kirwan-coached Blues is helping that cause while the Warriors continue to flounder. Both are also facing competition for the affections of Auckland sports fans from the Breakers, who open their quest for a third straight Australian National Basketball League premiership with the tip-off of the three-game finals series today at Vector Stadium.
The AFL also has its eyes on New Zealand with a premiership game between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans in Wellington on April 25.
It will be ironic if the AFL game screens in New Zealand and the Anzac league test doesn't.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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