The Rugby World Cup bids

There seem to be two Rugby World Cups taking place in 2011. One is an absolutely splendid affair being overseen by RWC Minister Murray McCully that will pour $500 million into our national and local economies, and attract big spending visitors from far and near. The other one is a Cup budgeted to make a $40 million loss, and that apparently requires a TVNZ involvement to underwrite two years of promotion in order to get a few more punters through the gates, in a climate where worryingly small crowds are being expected.

Right now, the latter event seems more likely to happen. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the kerfuffle over the broadcasting rights to coverage of the event. As everyone knows, there are now two bids on the table for free to air coverage: one from Maori TV, underwritten by Te Puni Kokiri taxpayer funds to date, with further iwi funds possibly still to come. The other is from a TVNZ-TV3 consortium, also underwritten by taxpayer funds.

The lack of forward planning has been incredible. If the financial viability of the Cup is at risk – and the recession that will affect overseas visitors and the budgeted losses have both been apparent for over a year – then surely the necessity/advantage of the TVNZ –TV3 bid was equally apparent, long ago. These advantages include the means to conduct an extensive long run promotional campaign before the event, to provide full nationwide coverage of the event at the time, and to offer the in-house experience in running events of this magnitude. The Maori bid – for all of its pluck and promise – should have been openly laid on the Cabinet table, and should have been able to be equally scrutinised for its benefits and capacity to deliver, long ago.

Plainly, neither Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman or Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples have managed the process competently. This morning on RNZ, Sharples was glossing over the coverage issue – he seemed to be saying that all New Zealanders were rugby fanatics and would have invested in Sky, so any New Zealanders actually reliant on free to air coverage would be a minimal, or non existent concern, especially since the digital transition would be almost upon us by then. Does he really think that almost all Maori families will be able to afford a Sky subscription by then? Whatever world Sharples is living in, it is no longer the one in which many of his constituents reside.

It wasn’t convincing, and the capacity of Maori TV to stage such an event cannot be assumed. They may well be able to – but the public has cause for concern about to whether that case has been substantively made. On the other hand, the fact that two state entities are competing – and thus ratcheting up the price to the taxpayer – is a terrible, entirely avoidable situation. The public also need to know exactly what money TV3 is bringing to the consortium party as well – otherwise, TV3 is getting a virtual free ride on the consortium bid.

If the RWC is in such bad shape that it needs a two year commitment by TVNZ to rescue it from imminent disaster, some wider question marks hang over this event. As regards the broadcasting bid itself, the wisdom of hindsight suggests that Maori TV should have been part of the TVNZ-TV3 bid from the outset, to maximise the Treaty opportunities ( eg, in fostering te reo, culture) that it can uniquely provide.

However, the current stance being taken by Sharples and Maori TV suggests that it has wanted it all – or nothing. Only by having all the free to air coverage can Maori TV force people to switch to its services. That’s not a stance amenable to compromise now, or beforehand – and the government should reject it. The IRB may not reject it though, not if Maori TV really can use iwi and TPK money to ratchet up the price. If so, the Finance Minister may be motivated next year to attach a few more strings to the money it allocates to Te Puni Kokiri.

As yet, there is no clear sign of how this debacle will be resolved. Good sense – not to mention the “Give it 100%” Rugby World Cup slogan – would suggest that we should pool our bids, and our coverage. Sharples may not find it mana enhancing to back out voluntarily – so we may have to go through the charade of him being directed not to use TPK money for this purpose, and ordered to throw his support behind a rejigged TVNZ-TV3 consortium that includes Maori TV.

In the meantime, precious little analysis has been given to the actual coverage envisaged. As it stands, the TVNZ/TV3 package is for 16 of the’most important’ games. In reality, TVNZ will show six games – two of the All Blacks’ pool games, the semi-finals, final, and third/fourth play-off. TV3 will also show six games – the two other All Blacks pool games, the semi-finals, final and third/fourth play-off.

Note the emphasis : in the run up to the semi-finals, only games featuring the All Blacks will be available free-to air. Fans who may want to watch how France, England, Australia, and South Africa are shaping up as contenders will have to go to Sky. What all of these bidders are offering is free to air coverage of the All Blacks World Cup, and not the Rugby World Cup.


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