Sports streaming service RugbyPass is aiming to raise US$20 million ($29.3m) to take rugby games to the rest of the world.
Chief executive Tim Martin's first online sports streaming service, PremierLeaguePass.com, came to an end in 2015 when Middle East-based BeIN Sport outbid it for New Zealand rights to English soccer.
His company, Coliseum Sports Media unwound its 50:50 joint venture with Spark (the short-lived Lightbox Sport), but did not fold.
Undeterred, Martin set up a new venture under the Coliseum umbrella — RugbyPass.com, which now streams games from the world's premium rugby competitions to fans in 23 countries across Asia.
Martin says RugbyPass has more than 20,000 paying subscribers and is in the black.
The company has now embarked on a capital raise to help fund a move into Europe and other markets.
Martin is no stranger to fundraising. He persuaded Britomart developer and $900m Rich Lister Peter Cooper to take a 50 per cent stake in Coliseum when the company was founded in 2012. And in 2016, the US-based Discovery Channel bought a minority stake.
Martin says his company's research indicates there are around 100 to 120 million rugby fans in the world. But many will only watch a big game like a World Cup final, he says.
And he says up to 25 million a month will check out around 1000 articles created by 40 RugbyPass contributors.
"Only a small subset are hardcore fans," he says.
He estimates that somewhere between three to five million people are keen enough to potentially pay the US$14.99 a month it costs to stream games via RugbyPass.
And he says there are only two countries where broadcasters or streaming services will pay big bucks for rugby as the must-have sport — New Zealand and South Africa.
Elsewhere, broadcasters and streaming services exhaust their funds in bidding wars for other sports — usually soccer — meaning rights to second-tier sports like rugby can be picked up relatively cheaply.
"We're looking for profit — and the most important driver of profit in our industry is not over-paying for rights. If you pay too much, profit is unobtainable," Martin says.
That's the model Coliseum is committed to with RugbyPass. And, accordingly, Martin says his company has zero ambition to make a play for All Blacks or Super Rugby rights here.
"I can't see us ever launching a livestreaming product in New Zealand," the RugbyPass boss says.
"Quite clearly, there's a big punch-up coming between Sky and Spark around rugby, but that's not a position that we like to be in the middle of.
"Both Sky and Spark have strategic reasons to potentially over-pay for rights," he says.
Sky could pay over-the-odds for the next five-year Super Rugby contract to crimp Spark's move into sports, for example. Or Spark could write a supersize cheque on the presumption it could use Super Rugby as a loss leader to attract more punters to its broadband plans (as British Telecom has done with soccer in the UK).
"They can sell a lot of content off the back of it — but we can't."
He candidly admits the reason RugbyPass launched in Asia-Pacific was that, "it's the smallest and cheapest rugby market. And we've done really well. We needed 20,000 subscribers there to break even. We've exceeded that and the growth is very strong".
The real money is in the northern hemisphere, he says, where his service will expand over the next few months.
"Rugby is a very fragmented sport. Rugby is not just [Super Rugby administrator] Sanzaar. Our biggest driver of audience is in fact the Six Nations because there are more English fans for rugby in the world than anyone else."
Martin says while he'll never pitch for local rights, he'll continue to help NZ Rugby reach a global audience.