Judging by the falling participation numbers and rising obesity rates, New Zealanders have become committed consumers of rugby.

This is a nation that knows how to park itself on the couch and lap up the broadcast experience.

It's a nation that no matter how much its population changes in ethnicity, continues to see an All Blacks test as a national television event and a World Cup as a familial rite of passage where every generation, regardless of their interest level, has to be gathered in front of the box to witness what will inevitably deliver a seminal moment in New Zealand history.

Rugby may be losing its grip as the national sport but the All Blacks are not losing their appeal as a national obsession and 1.1 million people watched the Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park last year.


Almost 800,000 watched it live on Sky, with 300,000 picking it up delayed on Prime, but regardless, all viewers would have been the beneficiaries of slick directing, smart analysis, pitch-perfect commentating and state of the art graphics, replays and camera angles.

New Zealanders have it good when it comes to broadcast rugby, they just don't know it because there has never been a warm and mutually respectful relationship between Sky and its customers.

Somehow Sky has been built into the national conscious and the wider media agenda as the big, bad wolf.

Everyone, it seems, possibly even New Zealand Rugby, has been eager to paint Sky as doomed and the inevitable loser in the race for broadcast rights now that Spark has come along with a war chest and a business plan.

Sky's share price slumped to an all-time low this week, while Spark Sport opened its app for business, giving credence to the sense that a changing of the guard has begun.

Spark, by doing nothing more than not having clunky, dated infrastructure, has become the people's champion riding in to lift the reign of hefty, long-term subscription tyranny.

But some kind of cautionary note has to be struck here and deeper consideration given to simply seeing the world as Sky bad, Spark good.

It's just as important not to believe that all Spark has to do to confirm its standing as the rising force in the sports rights market is nail the logistics of delivering uninterrupted coverage of the All Blacks at the World Cup.


The challenge for Spark is greater than avoiding a broadband meltdown and mass confusion about how to link devices to the hundreds of thousands of non-internet enabled TVs.

Considerable as that is, it is just the table stake, and amid all the vented fury about Sky's subscription prices, strategic laziness borne from a lack of competition and perceived disdain for their customers, it gets lost that they are world class in their core business. Sky has long grasped that there is more to being a broadcaster than simply delivering the pictures.

There's so much to get right to build a compelling consumer package and Sky, whether New Zealanders care to realise it or not, keep the bar exceptionally high on this and deliver the required sense of occasion.

There's a measured tone about their coverage that screams knowledgeable, professional and engaged and most importantly, there is nothing contrived or hyperbolic about the way Sky do things.

They've got almost 30 years experience broadcasting All Blacks tests and they make high quality production look easy when it's not.

There was perhaps some sense of this last year when TVNZ broadcast the Commonwealth Games with the sort of disastrous results that would come if Owen Franks and Joe Moody hosted a show about interior decorating. The state broadcaster was quite predictably exposed as being horribly out of its depth.


And just as TVNZ looked spectacularly out of touch and ill-equipped to deliver a compelling broadcast package last year, there is every reason to sit on the fence when wondering how Spark Sport might fare in this regard when covering the World Cup.

All it has proven so far is that it had more money to bid for the World Cup rights than Sky did.

It is totally unproven in every other respect and the enormity of what Spark is taking on hasn't fully been assessed because everyone has fixated on the technology, wrongly seeing this as the only area in which the World Cup broadcast experience will be judged.

It won't be, as those families gathered around the box in September and October will have high expectations, and the more pertinent question to ask about Spark is not whether it can nail the logistics, it is whether it can put the whole package together.

And while it seems the nation is rooting for them to get it right, no amount of goodwill can change the fact that Spark has no experience in covering major events.

It has no established framework to tap into and, given the public backlash from the Commonwealth Games, Spark should be wary about leaning too heavily on TVNZ to plug the gaps.


The stakes are enormous, as the New Zealand sports broadcast consumer will be merciless if Spark doesn't deliver polished, slick and credible production to go with the pictures and the company could be buried under an avalanche of negative PR from which it may never recover.

A World Cup is not the place to be exposed — not in New Zealand, where no one forgets or forgives any kind of All Blacks failure.

The broadcast market may not be on the cusp of revolution, as even the stock market seems to believe.

Sky's share price may reflect a combination of wishful thinking and simplistic analysis that doesn't understand the consumer experience of watching sport, especially rugby, is built on more factors then whether it comes via an internet stream as opposed to a satellite feed.

If there is a salient rugby analogy to be drawn here, it is surely to remind everyone that in the build up to the last World Cup, there was a vocal lobby howling for the once-capped Lima Sopoaga to be injected into the All Blacks squad ahead of the 100-plus capped Daniel Carter.

The veteran was supposedly past it, while Sopoaga was all promise and potential.


Come the tournament, Carter reminded the world that on the biggest stage, at the biggest event, experience is everything.

A World Cup is a massive TV event for New Zealanders and it might be that by the end of it, those who have spent the past few years deriding Sky and wishing it to collapse suddenly have a deeper appreciation of its qualities.