Andrew Gourdie: Why rugby will remain on SKY

SKY'S price changes to price structure might save the company, writes Andrew Gourdie.
SKY'S price changes to price structure might save the company, writes Andrew Gourdie. Photo credit: Photosport

OPINION: SKY Television's decision to change its price structure this week may be the move that secures the company's future.

At the heart of the change, SKY has made it cheaper - a lot cheaper - for New Zealanders to watch sport, and in particular, rugby. The stars of the country's national game are suddenly far more accessible to Kiwi sports fans, and that's a fact that won't have gone unnoticed by New Zealand Rugby's top brass.

They're the people who will soon decide how we watch rugby when the new broadcast deal comes up for negotiation. Their choice will also go a long way to determining the future of the company which has long had a monopoly on sports broadcasting in New Zealand.

On the face of it, their decision may be a simple one. At a time when New Zealand Rugby faces intense competition from European clubs with the financial muscle to prise not only more players but better players from our shores, selling the rights to the highest bidder seems the logical thing to do.

But there are a couple of other factors to consider which give SKY a crucial advantage.

Andrew Gourdie: Why rugby will remain on SKY

The cost of the All Blacks stadium experience is out of reach for most fans, so New Zealand Rugby must keep in mind how Kiwis will be able to watch their heroes in action. That's important, because more and more Kiwi kids are choosing to play other sports, and as concerns continue to grow over the long-term effects of concussion that's unlikely to change. When it comes to watching Super Rugby and All Blacks Tests, the viewing option needs to be easily accessible and reasonably priced in order to inspire future generations of fans and players.

SKY has copped plenty of criticism for failing to move with the times, but their technology remains the most accessible viewing platform accessible for most New Zealanders. Netflix and other providers may be on the rise with high-speed internet increasingly available to consumers around the country, but that doesn't mean that the majority of Kiwis are viewing content through a smart TV. That tipping point will come, but it hasn't arrived yet. Until it does, SKY still leads the game.

Linking with a new broadcaster would come with risks. What price would they set for fans? How would they watch? Will they be able to watch highlights online, or on the news? There are no guarantees.

In any case, the idea of online tech-giants bidding for and winning the next round of broadcast rights is one which may prove fanciful. Amazon and Facebook were expected to be major players in the recent auction for English Premier League football rights, but in the end traditional heavyweights SKY along with BT Sport hoovered up the majority of content. If they're not prepared to make a play for the biggest and best, rugby in New Zealand would seem a strange place for these companies to enter the sports broadcast market.

The acid test for SKY will be to watch how kiwi consumers respond to this week's changes. It's early days, but a saving of $25 per month is likely to be enough to see them regain at least some formerly disgruntled customers. If they can prove they still have the captive audience New Zealand Rugby craves when negotiations get underway, then I think they're likely to remain the home of rugby in New Zealand beyond the end of the current broadcast deal.

Andrew Gourdie is a sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport from 2pm.