Battling to watch the Black Caps on Spark

Opinion: It’s your fault. Yes, you, with the television that’s not fancy enough, the slow internet and the general lack of tactical acumen.

Devon Conway scored a first innings century in the test against Bangladesh but even those who paid to stream the match may have missed seeing a lot of it, Hamish Bidwell writes.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Yes, the only reason you’re not able to watch the Black Caps play home matches is because of your own various inadequacies.

Never mind that you’ve paid to watch coverage from New Zealand Cricket’s (NZC) host broadcaster, you actually don’t deserve to if you can’t get the stream to stop buffering. And if you have any objection to watching sport on a streaming service, it’s because you’re living in the Stone Age.

That’s the tenor of the comments I’ve seen at the bottom of stories – and on social media – about exasperated cricket fans battling to watch the Black Caps play Bangladesh.

Spark Sport is the streamer in question. The same Spark Sport whose coverage – if you could call it that – of the 2019 Rugby World Cup angered so many All Blacks enthusiasts.

That’s a fair while ago, but not long enough it seems for Spark to actually sort their service out.

No, they actually had to issue an apology to would-be cricket watchers on Monday, adding that they’d made some adjustments to “mitigate” the issue “moving forward.”

That’s nice of them. They can’t resolve the problems, obviously, but they can at least mitigate them.

Wow, sign me up.

Photo: PHOTOSPORT

We all have writers that we like and broadcasters or expert commentators. Equally, there may be networks, stations, websites and analysts that we don’t particularly care for.

That’s not the issue here.

The issue we have is that NZC threw their lot in with a niche broadcaster – in Spark – who can’t actually deliver on the service that people pay them to provide.

What’s more, those who voice their confusion about how to generate a reliable stream on their device of choice, or displeasure about how poor the product might be, are invariably shouted down by those who almost have a political or philosophical point to prove here.

I wrote about this stuff during the 2019 RWC – about how an ideological elite had almost emerged, who regarded watching sport on a streaming service as evidence of their own enlightenment.

Anyone with reservations about that broadcast model was condemned as backward.

That was two-and-a-bit years ago and, in my own case, I’ve become a subscriber to various streaming services in the time since. Well, I say “I’ve” but the reality is my wife has signed me up to all of them.

But do you know what those services all have in common? They work. Every time and without disruption.

It is a disgrace that New Zealanders are not able to watch the Black Caps play international cricket at home. Not in the sense that the games are behind a paywall, because that ship sailed a long time ago, but because our game’s governing body chose a broadcaster who still can’t provide reliable coverage to their (few) subscribers.

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A screenshot of the buffering rugby fans encountered in 2019.
Photo: RNZ / Martin Gibson

Failings at NZ Cricket

How is that remotely good enough? How is that value for money? How is that growing the game in this country? How is that doing justice to a side who are world Test champions?

It’s the broadcasting equivalent of trying to peer through the pickets at the team you love and genuinely want to support. You’d just about see as much of the team by driving laps of the Basin Reserve on match day, as you would trying to watch them via Spark Sport.

I reckon the Black Caps succeed in spite of NZC, sometimes.

The culture of the current side – created by Brendon McCullum and built on by Kane Williamson – is what serves them so well. Not talent or organisation or coaching.

When Ross Taylor goes and Williamson, Tim Southee and Trent Boult inevitably follow, I’m not sure NZC has equipped the team for continued success. These men, along with the recently retired BJ Watling, have been the architects of that team’s success, not the system.

Trent Boult of Delhi Capitals and Tim Southee of Royal Challengers Bangalore  before the start of the match 20 of the Vivo Indian Premier League Season 12, 2019 between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Delhi Capitals held at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on the 7th April 2019

Trent Boult, left, and Tim Southee
Photo: © Vipin Pawar /SPORTZPICS for BCCI 2019

They created a team whose success and behaviour are cited by people in other cricket nations as something their own test sides should aspire to.

If the modern age has taught us anything, it’s that if you’re not permanently in people’s face, then you don’t exist. Well, the Black Caps – thanks to NZC’s decision to hide them away on a streaming service – are in fewer and fewer faces all the time.

People accept that broadcast rights pay sport’s way. They accept that games and tournaments are staged not for competition’s sake, but to fulfil those broadcast rights deals.

They accept that jerseys and caps don’t mean what they used to, because more games mean more players have to be found to play those games. They accept that clubs now come before countries, because it’s the clubs that pay the bigger bucks.

But what fans won’t accept – and should never have to – is that they can’t always watch these games, even though they’ve paid for them.

Cricket lovers aren’t interested in mitigation. They just want to see uninterrupted coverage of the flaming game.

I hope it’s worth it, NZC.

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