Spark has made a Rugby World Cup 2019 Tournament Pass free for new or renewing customers on an eligible mobile or broadband plan.

People who have already bought a Tournament Pass might now be eligible for a refund (see the ins-and-outs of today's new policy below).

The move has proved the last straw for Vodafone and Vocus (owner of Orcon and Slingshot) who had been in talks to resell RWC Tournament Passes.

Along with 2degrees, they had accelerated investment in their networks, upgrading them to better stream Spark Sport - and they say the expected quid pro quo was that they would get the right to re-sell Tournament Passes with a fair wholesale price.

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"We've given up talking to Spark. Their offer was less-than-average and unsurprisingly we haven't bothered to take it up," Vocus Consumer GM Taryn Hamilton told the Herald this afternoon.

"They had most ISPs keen to do a deal but they stuffed around and failed to cement any. Now they are cynically giving away a deal to their customers that sounds great, but is just a $70 offer in the face of far better from competitors, such as a $300 mobile credit when you join broadband with Slingshot."

Hamilton speculated that Spark Sport takeup had been low (Spark has not made any figures public) and added, "so they have no choice but to give it away given the level of their investment.

"It's not a great track record to date, we can only hope they have their streaming sorted for the event. We've invested heavily in our network to make sure it's ready, and fingers and toes crossed they don't stuff it up for everybody."

A spokeswoman for Vodafone offered the more diplomatic. "We have advised Spark that we won't be proceeding with wholesaling the Spark Sport app due to both commercial and technical reasons.

"We will continue to work hard behind the scenes to ensure as many of our customers as possible have a great experience of watching the games via the Spark Sport app on our network."

Earlier this month, Vodafone NZ boss Jason Paris said while he still ultimately wanted to reach a deal and have the Spark Sport app feature on Vodafone TV, he had been taken aback by both the commercial terms and the number of games Spark had to make available to TVNZ (the state broadcaster will show the opener, all of the All Blacks pool games and the AB's presumed quarter-final on a one-hour delay, plus the semis and the finals live).

2degrees corporate affairs and wholesale director Mat Bolland said this afternoon, "We've shared our concerns about the wholesale elements, most recently the timing [of the earlybird offer, not made available to potential wholesale parteners]. For now, our message is to remind people that you don't need to take up these kinds of offers in order to have access to the Rugby World Cup. 2degrees has invested to ensure that its network is ready for the demands of Kiwis watching the national game."

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Earlier, Hamilton told the Herald, "Spark approached the industry last year asking that we make sure our networks are Rugby World Cup-ready.

"We have invested millions in ours, bringing forward network investment to ensure our network is rock solid."

He added, "We were keen to resell Rugby World Cup streaming passes. Spark has finally given us commercial pricing – which is underwhelming – after the prices are announced to the general public and [earlybird] passes go on sale," Hamilton says.

"It's too little, too late, and far from the partnership we and others were promised. This is pretty concerning behaviour given how much of a fuss Spark made about fair competition when objecting to the Vodafone and Sky merger."

This morning, a Spark spokeswoman told the Herald, "We have ongoing commercial discussions with a number of potential wholesale partners. All progressing well from our perspective."

The free offer

Spark said this morning that anyone on a pay monthly plan that costs $59.99 or above (either new or existing customers), who purchases a mobile device above the value of $199 on interest-free payments (24-month term), will get a free Rugby World Cup 2019 Tournament Pass from Spark.

And anyone who signs up to a 12-month Unlimited broadband plan or a Rural Wireless 240GB Wireless plan (either new customers, or existing customers who are out of contract and sign up to a new 12-month term) is also eligible for a free Rugby World Cup 2019 Tournament Pass.

Spark says small business customers also stand to benefit, as the offer is available to business mobile customers who sign up to a pay monthly plan at $60.86 or above (either new or existing customers) on a 24 month term plan and to business broadband customers who sign up to an Unlimited Business Bundle or Unlimited Naked plan (either new customers, or existing customers who are out of contract and sign up to a new 12-month term).

These offers are in addition to the early bird standalone Spark Sport pricing that is already available to anyone in market ($79.99 for all 48 matches live and on demand, until 10 September 2019) – and are another way to ensure that as many New Zealanders as possible get to stream the Rugby World Cup, Spark says.

Customers who have already purchased a Tournament Pass separately and want to take up this Spark offer can simply contact Spark Sport to cancel their existing pass and receive a refund – and then take up the Spark offer.

Joe Goddard, Tribe Lead for Spark Customer says, "As the licensed broadcaster of the tournament in New Zealand, Spark's substantial investment in the event puts Spark in a unique position in how we are able to market our Tournament Passes and associate Spark products and services with the Rugby World Cup. We are thrilled therefore to be able to offer eligible Spark customers this very special deal."

It is important to note that New Zealanders don't have to be a Spark customer to get access to the Rugby World Cup. Anyone can purchase a Rugby World Cup Tournament Pass, irrespective of their mobile or broadband provider, directly from Spark Sport, Goddard says.