Spark has just put its earlybird Rugby World Cup passes onsale. But the launch has been undermined by bad blood from ISPs who had been expecting a resale deal as a thank you for making their networks World Cup-ready - or at least one on better terms than those that have just been offered.
For its part, Spark says it's offering flexible, incentive-based terms, but it also notes they have to be within constraints set by its content licensing agreements.
2degrees corporate affairs and wholesale chief Mat Bolland told the Herald, "We've received a proposal for the Rugby World Cup Tournament Pass this morning, after the retail offer has been promoted in the market.
"It's not a wholesale offer, it's a 'commission with multiple restrictions' model that means we'll only be able to offer it to our customers after Spark finishes promoting the same thing for $20 less.
"This is a long way from what we'd been led to expect when we committed to investing in network enhancements to deliver a quality Rugby World Cup experience over our network."
Vocus - the owner of Orcon, Slingshot and Flip - also has its nose-out-of-joint.
"Spark approached the industry last year asking that we make sure our networks are Rugby World Cup-ready," Vocus consumer GM Taryn Hamilton said earlier today.
"We have invested millions in ours, bringing forward network investment to ensure our network is rock solid."
Like 2degrees, Vocus has accelerated network investment under the understanding the quid pro quo would be the right to re-sell Spark Sport.
However, it seems a wholesale price was never agreed on ahead of time - and now that it's finally been revealed, the company isn't happy.
"We were keen to resell Rugby World Cup streaming passes. Spark has finally given us commercial pricing – which is underwhelming – after the prices are announced to the general public and passes go on sale," Hamilton says.
The Vocus GM says it is, "Too little, too late, and far from the partnership we and others were promised."
He adds, "This is pretty concerning behaviour given how much of a fuss Spark made about fair competition when objecting to the Vodafone and Sky merger."
And although Spark has included in its communications that anyone can subscribe to Spark Sport, Hamilton adds, "We are also very concerned that Spark is not making it clear enough to consumers that they can use any broadband provider to stream the Rugby World Cup."
Hamilton said it was "very unlikely" that his company would resell Spark Sport, as things stand.
For Spark, a spokeswoman said, "We want to make Spark Sport and the Rugby World Cup 2019 widely available to New Zealanders via online streaming, regardless of their chosen broadband or mobile retailer.
"We have therefore put in place commercial offers that will incentivise other retailers to promote and sell both Spark Sport and the RWC Tournament Pass to their customers."
The $20/month Spark Sport, which includes Formula One racing, English Premier League soccer and other sports, is being sold separately to Spark Sport's Rugby World Cup passes.
"In selling via other retailers, Spark Sport must respect the rights of all the sports owners from which we have licensed content - as well as the commercial obligations those sports owners may have with their own sponsors etc - when it comes to marketing and branding. These realities need to be reflected in our wholesale arrangements with New Zealand retailers," the spokeswoman said.
"Taking these realities and all other factors into account, Spark Wholesale has developed a hybrid wholesale model:
• Broadband/mobile retailers will have broad discretion as to how they offer Spark Sport monthly subscriptions to their customers, including the ability to bundle Spark Sport with their own products and services
• For Pay-Per-View events including RWC Tournament Pass, retailers can offer their customers these products on a stand-alone basis and receive a commission on sales to their customers.
"We've been very clear in all our communications from the day we won the rights to Rugby World Cup 2019 that you don't need to be a Spark customer to watch Spark Sport – it's in our interests to encourage non-Spark customers to purchase Spark Sport subscriptions or a Tournament Pass."
The spokeswoman noted that fact is included in a FAQ on the Spark Sport website.
She added, "The intention of the Industry Working Group is to ensure that the technical teams of network providers have the information they need to make their own judgement on any necessary network preparations.
"We wanted to ensure that they weren't put in a tricky situation come kick-off time by unexpected demands on their network from Spark Sport. It's in all of our interests as network providers to ensure that New Zealanders have a good experience of the rugby."
For 2degrees, Bolland added, "We're not looking for anything for free. But we've accelerated millions in investment in our network and we want to be able to make a good [Spark Sport] offer to our customers in a timely fashion."
Vodafone played its cards close to its chest last week, restricting itself to noting that Spark had yet to make its promised wholesale offer. It declined to comment today.
Earlier today, Spark Sport started selling $60 "Super Early Bird" Rugby World Cup passes.
Those who wait until June will have to pay $80.
Those wait until September will have to shell out $90. Read more details on its offers, and the games that will be offered by its free-to-air partner TVNZ, here.