No answers over sport station's no-show

By Dana Johannsen

Masters both stirring and snooze-worthy, while big bucks rumoured for gay US athlete.

File photo / Dean Purcell
File photo / Dean Purcell

The details of a new free-to-air sports channel due to launch this week remain a mystery, with its directors refusing to elaborate on the reasons behind the station's no-show.

Sommet Sports was due to launch on Freeview channel 14 on Thursday, promising unprecedented AFL coverage in New Zealand.

But the launch date passed by with no explanation from the company as to why they weren't on air. Yesterday a brief statement appeared on the AFL website but only said Sommet were experiencing technical issues which they hoped to resolve soon.

Shaun McBride, who is listed as a director of Sommet Sports on the companies website, was also unwilling to go into any specifics.

"There's lot of different elements and factors and there have been a few issues that have come up which have delayed the process, but it certainly hasn't stopped it."

The only sport confirmed to have signed with Sommet is AFL, but McBride promises "there's lots of great content coming", he just can't say when.

"We're still working out the length of the delay and a revised launch date will be released in due course.

AFL New Zealand chief executive Robert Vanstam said he hasn't received any explanation from Sommet over the difficulties they are facing.

"Their email correspondence with me has not been regular at all. Considering I'm the punter that's going to give them 30,000 viewers, I would think I'd be one of their most important contacts so obviously they must be going through difficult times at the moment," said Vanstam.

The hold-up comes as a blow to AFL leaders, who are involved in a big push to improve the visibility of the sport in New Zealand. Securing exposure on free-to-air television was seen as a major coup for the powerhouse sport who, despite commanding broadcast revenue in the hundreds of millions in Australia, are keen to extend their reach across the Tasman. Next week New Zealand will host the first AFL match to be played outside of Australia, with St Kilda taking on the Sydney Swans in Wellington.

It is expected Sky will play the role of the gallant corporate and step in and broadcast the Anzac day match, but that is expected to be a one-off leaving AFL fans in limbo as to when they will receive the extensive coverage promised by Sommet.

"The squeakiest wheels are always the ex-pats living over here," said Vanstam. "They want to see AFL live on TV, but I'm under no illusions about the challenges for any broadcaster that puts on a new sport."

Freeview general manager Sam Irvine said he does not believe Sommet Sports' no-show has adversely affected the credibility of his company.

"Digital TV is a fairly complex operation and they're just working through a couple issues and obviously they haven't been able to meet the timelines they wanted," said Irvine.

"We don't generate our own content, so we're an open platform and anyone can come along and put a channel on, so the more the merrier. The more free TV the better, and particularly more sport on free-to-air TV the better."

- NZ Herald

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