ANY GIVEN MONDAY
It is difficult to know what to expect from New Zealand Cricket's groundbreaking deal with Spark announced last week.
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It is much easier to assume what we'll get from Sky's re-upping (with a twist) their contract with New Zealand Rugby – another layer of sugary sycophancy to the national sport above the slickly produced treacle we already get from the pay-TV provider.
In this competitive environment that our summer and winter pastimes have negotiated in, the two sports have emerged clear winners, leveraging this unique set of circumstances to secure record-breaking deals and guaranteeing a measure of financial security.
Spark's accrual of big-ticket local sport signals they're in for the long haul, so they can chalk up the deal as a big win (and sources say they really never felt NZ Rugby was considering change, so cricket was a key acquisition).
As for Sky, with a share price heading downhill faster than a bike with no brakes on Baldwin St, it's no exaggeration to say that NZR held the future of the company in their hands. So they did what any self-respecting mob boss would do and took a bit of it for themselves.
Keeping rugby, at any cost, has to feel like a win right now at Sky's Mt Wellington HQ.
The equity stake, however, that's more troubling.
You can't blame NZ Rugby for asking and receiving. You can't blame subscribers, like myself, thinking it's a really, really bad idea.
Sky has positioned itself as little more than an in-house production company for NZ Rugby.
The relationship was already uncomfortably cosy as "broadcast partners", now it's wedded.
Sky has always been horrendous at covering genuine rugby issues. It's brilliant at covering matches, world-leading in many respects, but it's like a beautifully designed living room without any furniture.
If you want to know why back of the lineout ball is crucial to defeating Ireland, then Sky is your place. If you want to hear a bunch of ex-internationals with no appetite for controversy yet who like talking over one another, Sky has you covered.
If you want controversial, important topics like boardroom diversity, white flight, CTE or even blindingly obvious subjects like a certain Chiefs end-of-year-party covered in a comprehensive, dispassionate way, forget it.
Sky doesn't do journalism. It does broadcasting matches (very well) and fluff (very averagely).
Given the most journalism-averse national sporting organisation in the country now has a stake in the company, it's difficult to foresee a much-needed change of direction towards a punchier product.
(To be fair, there is little indication that Spark plans on allying journalistic content to their sports product either.)
It's hard to be too critical of Sky and its proactive new chief Martin Stewart, however. With NZ Cricket off the table, he simply had to keep rugby, but the cost – understood to be $400m over five years and five per cent equity – is extraordinary.
That also doesn't take into account the "hidden" costs that are really not that hidden, like being forced to live broadcast a multitude of games that the public no longer have any interest in. If Stewart dragged himself off to Manawatu v Northland match, for example, he'd have time to introduce himself personally to every member of the crowd, then grab a hotdog and chips and relax in time for the second half.
Cricket and particularly rugby remain big-ticket items but all trends seem to point to New Zealanders' tastes in sport changing. Certainly, playing numbers in traditional team sports are tanking: if viewership follows then two companies have just spent a huge wodge of cash on a backsliding product.
Sky and Spark are also counting on a big chunk of New Zealanders being prepared to pay two subscriptions for sport services. If you're a cricket-loving rugby tragic, or vice versa, life has just got that little bit more expensive.
Spark entering the market has unquestionably changed the dynamic of sports broadcasting and consumption in New Zealand, much like Sky did when it arrived on the scene in the late 80s.
As a result, New Zealand's two richest sports just got richer.
That's a notable win.
Spark "won" cricket. Sky "won" rugby.
Just a shame that right now the only losers in all this are the one sector that's meant to benefit most from competition: the consumer.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
One of the go-to reads of my 20s and 30s was effectively killed off this month. This is a brutal take on the current state of sports journalism in the wake of the gutting of the once great Sports Illustrated. From Deadspin.