If a Spark-TVNZ consortium bids for rights to New Zealand Rugby's matches from 2020, they can expect support from at least one government coalition partner.

New Zealand First's manifesto includes a policy that games of national significance should be broadcast free-to-air.

They will struggle to make that a reality with many professional sports funded through broadcasting rights. Any successful bidder would either have to be recompensed for an estimated loss in subscriptions. Or anti-siphoning laws — like those used in Britain, Australia or India — would need instituting for designated games.

In March, New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell submitted a private member's bill to Parliament aimed at amending the Broadcasting Act to those ends.


National and Labour voted against the bill, which would have included free-to-air coverage of international rugby, league, netball, cricket, major events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

Mitchell has not given up.

"If TVNZ get together with a communication partner [such as Spark], then you'll have online streaming and free-to-air broadcasting which would be a win-win for the public.

"Digital platforms have got to be factored into play. So much is done from mobile devices these days," said Mitchell.

Sky Television hold the rights to all New Zealand and Sanzaar-based rugby competitions, from which NZ Rugby is estimated to receive $70 million annually.

Regardless of any party's intentions, the rugby rights market looks set for a restructure.

As the Herald on Sunday reported last week, "rugby maybe hasn't known such a world of opportunity since 1995 and the switch to professionalism".

The evolution in the way games are consumed means digital and television rights could be unbundled and Sky would struggle to dictate the same terms.

A Spark-TVNZ bid could lend traction to NZ First's idea.

"It's still a fair way off, but looks a good possibility," Mitchell said. "Anywhere you can take away the monopoly or duopolies that exist, and offer better opportunities for taxpayers as a whole, has got to be a good thing.

"I'm not anti-Sky. I have Sky myself and they do a great job, but we've got to ensure those who can't afford it still have access to the New Zealand sporting culture."

Sky use Prime for some of their sporting coverage, but those broadcasts tend to be delayed or punctuated by advertisement breaks.

Mitchell said the benefits of open access outweighed the costs.

"We've had free-to-air sport in the past and I think a big part of the obesity problem in this country is that kids feel disconnected from sport.

"Nothing's more empowering than seeing top sportspeople inspiring kids to get out and do the same.

"When you have low socioeconomic areas where people don't have access, we see participation rates drop drastically."