Auckland woman Michelle Pickles has been shocked to receive a letter from Spark, on the eve of the Rugby World Cup, that dropped the bombshell:

"You recently took up our Broadband Plan offer, which included a Spark Sport Rugby World Cup 2019 Tournament Pass," the letter said.

"Unfortunately, the internet connection at [Pickles' address] isn't fast enough to stream live sport, so you'll need a new plan."

It's a headscratcher for TV3 reporter turned racing industry figure Pickles, and others who received the same letter.


"The email I got is for our holiday house in Whitianga. We're five mins drive from town," Pickles told the Herald.

60,000 streamed RWC opener on Spark Sport: how that stacks up
Sky TV jostling against Spark for rights to 2023 RWC
TVNZ, Spark turn to virtual All Blacks

Why would Spark sell her a broadband bundle, including a Tournament Pass, when the broadband at her address is not up to snuff - and why would it wait until just hours before kick-off to tell her?

Spark says it has had to "step-up cross-checks" as the number of Tournament Pass buyers has swelled hugely amid a last-minute sign-on rush, though it won't reveal the numbers involved.

"We absolutely appreciate that this will be unwelcome news for customers just before the start of the tournament, but we believe it's better to be upfront with them," it said in a statement.

Spark also blamed, in part, community opposition to new cellphone towers in Coromandel town, Tairua, Havelock North - although protests have been going for months.

"The absence of these new cell sites means we have less capacity to cope with RWC demand, Spark said.

(See the telco's full response below.)


Pickles posted her letter from Spark to Twitter. A retweet by an ex-colleague got a reply from a user in Te Riki, near New Plymouth, who said they were in they had received the same communication from Spark.

Spark earlier acknowledged that not all homes - including more than 40,000 rural homes - did not have good enough broadband to stream the Rugby World Cup.

Pickles, however, seems to be subject to a last-minute upsell after been sold a substandard connection.

Spark began selling Tournament Passes for an early-bird rate of $60 in May, and is now charging $90 to watch all 48 games.

Auckland rubbish bin is secret cellsite
Spark Sport close to a clean sheet - but hit by Man U snag

Between June 17 and September 12, it offered a free Tournament Pass to new broadband customers, or existing customers who renewed a contract or upgraded their plan.


The RWC kicks off tonight at 10.45pm with the opener between hosts Japan and Russia - giving Pickles - and others who received today's letter - just hours to have another stab at picking the correct plan.

Spark responds

Spark refused to say how many customers had received the letter, but said in a statement to the Herald:

"Spark recently contacted some additional Spark customers who we believe may not have good enough broadband at their home address to watch the Rugby World Cup. We've made it clear for more than a year that while the vast majority of New Zealanders should be able to watch matches via their broadband, a small proportion live at locations where their current internet technology may cause quality issues.

"As New Zealanders have been purchasing Rugby World Cup tournament passes in the last few months, we have been doing behind-the-scenes cross-checks to identify which of them are Spark Broadband or Mobile customers and then confirming whether their broadband is okay. We've already communicated with a significant number of these customer over recent months."

The last-minute rush for Tournament Passes appeared to have caused problems. (Spark said earlier that it expected 50 per cent of subscribers to sign on during the final fortnight).

"Because we have seen the number of customers signing up for a Spark Sport RWC Tournament pass swell hugely, we've stepped up these cross checks and communicated with a number of additional customers in the last few days," Spark said.


The customers that we are contacting fall into four categories.

"First, Spark customers who we've previously contacted a few months ago to advise them that their broadband is unlikely to be streaming ready – this is effectively a reminder letter," Spark said.

Sky TV's king-hit bid to keep rugby as competition with Spark heats up

"Second, Spark customers who recently signed up to a new broadband or mobile plan which included the option for a free RWC pass. When we cross-checked with broadband performance, there were a very small number of customers whose home broadband may not be streaming ready. The large majority of these customers haven't taken up the option for a free Tournament Pass but we have included them in these communications in case they intend to sign up at the last minute. We've credited these customers for the value of the pass – but they can still use it (although we suggest they do so at an alternative address).

"Third, customers who purchased a pass directly from Spark Sport, but cross-checking with their Spark broadband records now indicates their broadband connection is not streaming ready. Note that Spark Sport can be purchased by anyone, irrespective of their broadband provider, which means we don't do any broadband eligibility checks up front. We've asked these customers to contact the Spark Sport help team to discuss their situation.

"We've also communicated with all wireless broadband customers in three locations (Coromandel town, Tairua, Havelock North) where we had planned to build new additional cell sites in time for the RWC but those plans have been delayed due to recent strong community opposition. The absence of these new cell sites means we have less capacity to cope with RWC demand. Although some customers in these locations may still be able to watch matches okay, again we thought it was important to be upfront and set expectations accordingly."


"We absolutely appreciate that this will be unwelcome news for customers just before the start of the tournament, but we believe it's better to be up front with them. Our priority is for them to have the best possible experience of the tournament – and the best way that we can do this is by setting accurate expectations. It's also possible that some of these customers can still watch but the quality of the stream may not be what we think it should be.

"Our front line is geared up to support these communications to customers, so we encourage customers who have questions to get in touch."