The World Cup of Rugby comes around every four years and this year it is being held in Japan. Normally at about this time sports writers and fans start worrying over the All Blacks’ chances, but this year things seem fairly positive from the playing side, but there are real worries over whether Kiwi fans will be able to watch the games.
Rugby is without doubt still our biggest sport. Even in urban liberal Auckland, rugby draws the crowds, whether it be secondary school rugby, the improving Blues and definitely the All Blacks who can still fill all of our national venues. Out in rural NZ its status is unchallenged with club matches drawing 500+ in towns as small as Taipa and Awanui, with bigger crowds at Kerikeri whose facilities would be the envy of all city sports clubs, and cleverly combines with netball, our biggest female sport.
Just like most folk can remember what they were doing when Lady Di’s death was announced, thousands of Kiwis can remember where they were each time the All Blacks finished either at the top, like last two times, or sadly earlier when they bowed out to the French in 2007, when we were at friend’s and the champagne tasted like cactus juice.
In 2011, we built a grandstand in the lounge, got caterers in and sold tickets in 32 lounge chairs to enjoy the games and raise funds for the Christchurch earthquake which mainly benefitted from the small intake of booze during that ever-so-close final that we won 8-7. The 2015 final found me in Washington DC attending a seminar on failed states which I sneaked out of to join a bunch of Anzacs at the NZ embassy where Mike Moore was hosting “beer and chips” TV coverage in a country that doesn’t cover rugby. I was able to re-enter the seminar to declare that NZ was no longer a failed state.
This year rural NZ is definitely worried about seeing the games, now that Spark have beaten the reliable coverage of Sky with their on-line offering, which has yet to go live. Simon Moutter’s sudden departure as CEO of Spark last week did nothing for the nerves of rugby fans. On-line streaming of sports is undoubtedly the future, but it looks increasingly like the future won’t arrive in time. Much of the worry is older folk, both town and country not sure of how to load the correct app to play Spark’s rugby coverage, but tens of thousands of rural dwellers simply don’t yet have suitable fibre connections.
Much of the blame for that lies at the feet of Steven Joyce who made a host of blunders in his time as a Minister without previous experience and in this case, it was the national roll-out of fibre. The roll-out in itself wasn’t a bad idea but how they went about it certainly was. Sensible introduction of any new service is to provide it first where the need is greatest. Not with the fibre roll-out which was dominated by Joyce’s centralist approach to everything which was gleefully supported by the army of Wellington drones that he so generously rewarded with huge incomes at the ludicrously named Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the three things it is designed to prevent.
Well, they started the fibre roll-out in the cities, which already had so much un-used fibre laid that it will be years before it is at capacity. In Auckland fibre was already laid by Telecom, Vector’s Tangent, United Networks and others. Towns like Kaitaia, Gisborne and Westport which had appallingly poor copper networks and who had the most to gain were ignored and still have yet to see fibre, yet these towns are our export earners. The fibre roll-out should have started at the outposts and worked in towards the cities.
The net result is the rugby-mad provinces don’t have the means to watch Spark, even if they get their act together. A quick chat to rural and even the large urban white goods sellers will tell you that Rugby World Cup is a big sales driver of new TVs and these sellers are all hounding Spark to get organised so they can sell the Spark app and have it in all new TVs, but this isn’t yet organised, nor is there a widespread understandable set of instructions to help people make the change from
Sky to Spark.
Of course young tech-clever folk will laugh at this, but it looks like a slow train wreck coming, with a rush of urgent fix-ups as the games approach. Moutter is a smart guy and his retirement looks more like a good way to preserve a clean CEO record than a planned move by Spark. I hope I am wrong.