Spark Sport will offer its first football coverage from this weekend as the 2019/2020 English Premier League season kicks off.
In its most demanding warmup for the Rugby World Cup so far, the insurgent streaming service will offer all 380 EPL games live and on-demand.
The test comes amid some cheering news for Spark from across the Tasman, where Aussie telco Optus has been making a similar foray into sport.
Optus gained infamy in July last year as "Floptus" when its stream of the FIFA Men's Football World Cup fell over as around 1 million Aussies tried to watch it at once. Coverage was transferred to free-to-air broadcaster SBS and refunds issued (here, Spark says it will switch games to TVNZ "within minutes" should there be any glitches with the RWC).
But the Aussie telco has just revealed it has more than 700,000 subscribers for its Optus Sports service, which is built around English and European football (or "soccer", if you must) and costs A$15 a month ($16), but is also free for some new or upgrading customers to its mobile and broadband services.
Since the World Cup debacle, it seems Optus has made a decent fist of content including the 2018/19 EPL, the FIFA Women's World Cup and the UEFA Champion's League.
It claimed a record 16.5 million livestreamed minutes for the June 1 UEFA Cup final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur - implying around 200,000 viewers - despite the game essentially being ruined by a questionable penalty awarded to The Reds just 23 seconds in (football-loving Spark Sport subs will be jealous that Optus has a lock on every major English and European competition. Here, the action is spread across Spark Sport, Sky TV and the seemingly un-killable beIN Sport).
The news isn't all rosy.
Optus has also revealed it paid a stonking A$187 million over three years to wrest the EPL from Foxtel and Fox Sports in 2015. It subsequently extended its exclusive broadcast rights to until 2022 in May last year but says the amount is "confidential".
It's impossible to say how Optus would have fared without its stream sports service, but it added 51,000 postpaid mobile customers during its June quarter and 151,000 broadband customers, with Optus Sport credited in part for the gains.
Revenue rose 3 per cent against the year-ago quarter to A$2.2 billion. But despite the extra subs, net profit dropped 32 per cent to A$105m.
Spark has so far refused to reveal any costs associated with creating its Spark Sport platform or acquiring rights, but says it will offer some numbers at its first financial result post-RWC (which should be around February).
Industry gossipmongers abhor a vacuum, of course, and into the breach one source says Spark paid $13m for Rugby World Cup 2019 rights - or around double what Sky is thought to have paid in 2015. (Spark is said to have clawed back $1m from TVNZ, which will screen 12 RWC games).
And a pair of Forsyth Barr analysts recently estimated Sky is spending more than $105m a year on sports rights, with rugby accounting for around $65m of that total, NRL around $30m and cricket around $10m.
That means if Spark is to fulfil its stated ambition to land more A-list sports to keep Spark Sport subscribers loyal beyond the RWC, it will need to reach deep into its pockets - and hope that its board and shareholders have strong stomachs.
Sky TV - which, unlike Spark - sees sports rights as a life-or-death struggle - has already indicated it will bid til it hurts.