A big player in the sports streaming market has arrived in New Zealand – and it has its eyes on some of the country's biggest sports like rugby and cricket.
The arrival of Spark Sport last year, and its exclusive rights to the Rugby World Cup, gave the country its first full taste of sports streaming and the slow move away from pay TV subscription.
While the reaction to Spark's foray into sports streaming – especially during the Rugby World Cup – was mixed at best, it offered a vision of where sport in New Zealand could be heading. Since then, Spark has made its intentions in sports streaming clear by acquiring more of the country's biggest sports rights, including international and domestic cricket in New Zealand.
And now global giant DAZN, a UK-based sports streaming service backed by significant financial investment, has announced that it will launch in New Zealand from the start of May.
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DAZN (pronounced "Dazone") will initially focus on boxing, but is interested in potentially expanding into major sports in New Zealand.
The first event on DAZN available in New Zealand will be Mexican boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez's next fight against a soon-to-be announced opponent on May 2.
In 2018, Alvarez signed the biggest contract in sports history with DAZN, an 11-fight deal worth at least US$365m – a showcase of the streaming service's major financial chops and its appetite to become "the first truly global sports broadcaster".
Backed by the likes of multibillionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik, the 27th wealthiest person in the world, DAZN could prove to be a major disruption in the local sports broadcast market – currently occupied by Spark Sport and Sky Sports – especially if it does choose to compete for the rights to some of the country's biggest sports.
"A common misconception of our business given our heavy presence in the U.S. around boxing is that we are purely a boxing broadcaster. That's not the case," DAZN executive vice president Joseph Markowski told Radio Sport Breakfast.
"I see it really as phase one of our global launch. We're going to focus on the content we own globally … As we get into it, and as we start seeing subscribers come in and particular success in some markets, we'll look to invest more specifically on local content."
Could DAZN come for NZ's top sports?
Since first launching in 2016, DAZN has become the number one sports broadcaster in countries like Japan, where it owns domestic football and baseball rights. It also offers vastly popular content like Champions League and Serie A football in Europe.
Markowski says they are "absolutely" interested in a future move into major New Zealand sports like cricket and rugby, and expects to hear from local sports bodies in the future.
"We'll see how successful we are in each market. And I would imagine what would happen now that we've announced this intention to launch globally, we'll have lots of knocks on the door from our friends at the [local] leagues.
"We carry cricket in a number of our territories already and we carry rugby in a number of our territories too. We've done business with those guys all the time.
"Obviously, as you get into each market, the premium content like the All Blacks for example and in New Zealand the test match cricket rights too, they carry different price tags. And we'll invest at the right time when they become available and if we can see onward success in each of those markets.
"But the beauty of this strategy is we own this content globally already. We can introduce our product and our platform and what we believe is a better way of watching sport to fans in New Zealand."
The sports streaming wars
Sky TV, still the largest sports broadcaster in New Zealand, has already been put on notice by the arrival of DAZN – especially when it comes to the country's biggest boxing star Joseph Parker.
In a previous Herald report, Parker's manager David Higgins said he welcomes the arrival of DAZN as a competitor, also adding that it could affect other sports going forward.
"Sky has been a great partner of Joseph Parker [but] more competition entering the market can only be good," Higgins said.
"For sport, and for Joseph Parker and we would welcome a conversation. Sky is the incumbent; they're our friend so we'll speak to them first. But DAZN is there, so it's going to be fascinating."
"If I were NZ Cricket or NZ Rugby, I'd be keeping my options open," he added.
More competition in sports broadcasting has already led to huge shifts in the future of some of the country's major sports.
Late last year, Sky announced a broadcast agreement with NZ Rugby until 2025, an unprecedented deal which saw the rugby governing body also become a five per cent shareholder in Sky, while Spark Sport last year signed a six year deal as the official rights partner of NZ Cricket.
While the arrival of the likes of Spark Sport and DAZN will undoubtedly disrupt the sports broadcast environment in many ways, more competition in the sports market is ultimately a good thing for fans and sporting bodies, says Michael Sam, an Otago University associate professor specialising in sports policy and governance.
"One of the big advantages of actually introducing competition is if it decreases the price to view sport, it means more people can watch sport," Sam told the Herald.
"Effectively more competition decreases the price of the product, which means that more people can perhaps have access to it, which means more people can watch sport and enjoy the benefit that is supposed to accrue from watching our sports stars."
Sam says new competition could also prove crucial in the development and preservation of New Zealand sport in general.
"At Sky's peak, they only had about a 40 per cent penetration into households which meant there's now a whole generation of kids who have never watched live rugby because it was too expensive for their families and so on to have it," Sam said.
"And then of course NZ Rugby wonders why there's fewer fans."